9 April 2012
In November 2011, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable announced the government’s new proposals for employment law reforms. The government intends to implement most of these regulations in April 2012 so we will see very shortly how these changes will affect the current employment law landscape.
When the reforms are introduced they will radically change employment law.
Vince Cable has stated “we are not re-balancing employment law simply in the direction of employers. Our proposals strike an appropriate balance and we are keeping the necessary protections already in place to protect employees”. That is a matter for debate.
Some of the main proposals are:
Introduction of fees
The Ministry of Justice has published a consultation on the introduction of fees in the tribunal system. Fees are already payable in courts but not currently in Employment Tribunals. The payment of fees will make it harder for people on a low income to have access to justice. Means testing of fees (“Remittance”), and recoverability if the claim is successful will not completely remove the disincentive to bring a claim.
Unfair dismissal qualifying period to increase from one year to two years:
Employers say that increasing the qualifying period will give them more confidence to hire staff, especially those who require a lot of training. But, without the right to be protected from unfair dismissal there is little or no job security. This will only affect those who begin employment on or after 6 April 2012.
The compulsory lodging of all claims through ACAS before going to tribunal
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) is a free service available to help resolve workplace disputes. The compulsory lodging of claims through ACAS is an attempt to encourage people to resolve matters early and could help to avoid the stress and cost of litigation. One concern is that ACAS does not have the necessary resources or expertise to conciliate in complex claims. This also sounds a bit like the old statutory grievance procedure which was recently repealed, following much criticism.
Employment tribunals to have the power to levy financial penalties on employers
The government wants judges to have the discretion to penalise employers who breach employment rights. A minimum threshold of £100 and a maximum of £5,000 are being proposed. Provided that claimants are able to bring their claims easily, and are not hindered from making tribunal claims, this could be a useful deterrent to employers.
Judges to sit alone in unfair dismissal cases
In an effort to streamline the employment tribunal process, judges will, from April 2012, sit alone in unfair dismissal cases instead of sitting on a panel with two lay members. This will not apply to discrimination cases.
Rapid resolution for low value and straightforward claims
This could involve non-judicial determination (by legally qualified individuals or otherwise) based only on papers, without a hearing which would ensure claims are dealt with more quickly and would avoid a hearing. This would remove access to the tribunal for individuals with low value claims, who are often individuals in minimum wage jobs with little job security. “Low value” is a relative term; for those on a low income it may be a significant amount.
To speak to a member of the employment team for a free and confidential initial consultation please call Leigh Day on 020 7650 1200
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