In recent months there has been much press comment about the Government’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’, but what changes have actually taken place and what changes are likely to take place in the next six to 12 months?

New employees who started working for an employer on or after 6 April 2012 need to work for that employer for two years before they have the right to bring a claim for unfair dismissal, or to request a written statement of reasons for dismissal. Employees who commenced work before 6 April 2012 acquired that right after one year.

Tribunal Reforms

There have been some reforms to the tribunal process with the aim of deterring those with unmerited claims. These include a requirement that claimants pay up to £1000 as a deposit if the tribunal believe the claim has little reasonable prospects of success and increasing the amount of costs the tribunal can award to £20,000. However, in tribunal cases costs remain the exception not the rule. The tribunal may award costs if they think it appropriate when one of the parties has acted vexatiously, abusively, disruptively, or otherwise unreasonably, or if the claim has been misconceived.

Reform Planned

This is not yet law and maymbe subject to change. However the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill anticipates:

– the introduction of compulsory ACAS conciliation before tribunal proceedings can be commenced;

– extension of the time limits for commencing tribunal claims to allow for the conciliation;

– the possibility of ‘legal officers’ not judges making decisions in employment cases;

– the possible limitation of unfair dismissal compensation to somewhere between one year’s average earnings and three year’s average earnings (between £26,000 and £78,000);

– the power for a tribunal to impose a penalty on employers of 50% of any financial award, up to a maximum of £5,000 in cases where there are aggravating features; and

– the renaming of ‘compromise agreements’ to ‘settlement agreements’.

Flexible parental leave and flexible working

It is likely that the Children and Families Bill will provide that:

– the current 52 week maternity leave period will be replaced with a maternity period of 18 weeks taken at the time of the birth and exclusively for the mother;

– there will be 34 weeks of flexible parental leave will be introduced. Each parent will have exclusive use of four weeks, but the remaining period will be available to either parent;

– there will be 21 weeks of parental pay;

– there may be an extended right to request flexible working.

Long term employment law reform: Where are we up to and what’s next?

There has been much speculation about the Government’s long term aims, some of it is just that, speculation or lobbying. The changes that appear to be anticipated in the life of the current government include:

– the introduction of issue fees and hearing fees for tribunal claims, currently there is no fee, again the introduction of fees could deter unmerited claims;

– abolition of the questionnaires used in discrimination cases;

– removal of the third party harassment provisions in the Equality Act;

– the introduction of ‘protected conversations’ allowing employer and employee to discuss issues at work but be sure that the conversation could not be referred to in subsequent tribunal proceedings;

– ‘compensated no fault dismissals for micro-businesses’

– Slimmed down dismissal procedures — the aim is to simplify the ACAS guidelines.

There is a definite political shift in approach to employment law, whether that results in less regulation and less litigation remains to be seen.

As these changes come into force we will be setting out the detail and the implications for our clients on our website and Debbie Mactaggart’s blog

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