Adventures in micro-business

Each month Professor Russell Smith answers your queries, and profiles a small business facing a big challenge
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The Independent Online

Q. I've been told that I must carry out a "risk assessment" even if I run a small business on my own from home. What does this mean?

A. Even when you work from home you will have health and safety responsibilities such that you must carry out an assessment of likely risks. The Health and Safety Executive has an excellent website (www.hse.gov.uk) with lots of sensible advice and guidance. Their leaflet, "Five steps to risk assessment", is available free of charge from their website, as is the leaflet "Working alone in safety - controlling the risks of solitary work", for advice about working on your own.

Q. Although successful, my small business is changing. I would like to retain all of my employees but will need to change what some of them do. How do I go about this?

AYou must get the employee's consent if you want to change their employment contract. Before entering into any discussions, you would be wise to read the "Varying a Contract of Employment" guidance leaflet available free of charge from the ACAS website (www.acas.org.uk).

Q. I employ only five people and two of them work part-time. One of the part-time staff has asked for a training course that I arranged for two of the full-time staff. Do I have to provide this?

A. Generally speaking, part-time staff must be treated in the same way as full-time staff. This rule applies to most things, including training. It makes good business sense that all of your employees get the training that they need. You can find out more about how to ensure best practice for part-time workers by visiting the DTI website (www.dti.gov.uk/er/pt-detail.htm).

Q. I'm thinking of a name for my new business that a friend advises may get me into trouble due to "passing off". What does this mean?

A. It would be unfair for customers to come to you, wrongly believing that they are trading with another business with an established reputation, due to you using a similar business or product name. The other business could accuse you of "passing off" your products or services as their own. You should look at the Companies House website (www. companieshouse.gov.uk) to check that there are no limited companies with similar names.

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