Employment Law Reforms

There have recently been turbulent times for employers due to economic uncertainty, but the Government has promised reforms to employment rules aimed at making life easier for employers, and as explained by Louise Haward, an Associate Partner in the Employment Team at Smith Partnership, the implementation of those reforms are now well under way.

The main legal changes that employers need to be aware of include:

25th June 2013

• The qualifying period for unfair dismissal, namely 2 years for anyone employed after 5th April 2012, has been adapted so that there will be no qualifying period required for claims for unfair dismissal relating to an employee’s political opinion/affiliation.

• The rules relating to whistleblowing claims are changing. Whistleblowing is the process which affords employees’ protection when they have made a disclosure relating to their employment, and covers issues such as health and safety breaches, criminal offences, failures to comply with legal obligations or deliberate concealment of each of these. The Government is updating the rules to require that to qualify for protection, any disclosure must be in the “public interest”, and reducing compensation where any disclosure is not made in good faith. At a later date it will also introduce vicarious liability for employers whose staff victimise whistleblowers.

29th July 2013

• The long-awaited introduction of employment tribunal fees for issuing claims and for claims to proceed to hearing will take force. Fees could be up to £1000 per claim although employees will be able to apply for remission from all or part of the fee, dependent upon their individual circumstances.

• Tribunal procedures will also change with the merging of preliminary hearings to a single hearing and the introduction of greater case management powers for Employment Judges.

Summer 2013

• There will be changes to compromise agreements which includes them being re-named settlement agreements, to be based on a standard format, together with the regulation and protection of “off the record” settlement negotiations which take place during employment, provided that a standard process declared by ACAS is adhered to.

1st October 2013

• Under discrimination law, the recently introduced liability for third party harassment claims e.g. claims by employees for the discriminatory conduct of customers, are intended to be removed.

• It is also intended that strict liability offences for breach of health and safety duties will be removed.

6th April 2014

• Introduction of mandatory pre-claim ACAS conciliation.

• Extension of time limits to lodge claims to allow for conciliation.

• The removal of the questionnaire provisions for discrimination claims.

The major benefit for employers of the changes is likely to be the reduction in tribunal cases and the steps available to make it easier to reach settlement through conciliation or protected pre-dismissal negotiations.

It is essential that employers keep up to date with these changes and ensure that their policies, procedures and practices, match the new laws, warns Louise.

For further information on the new laws being implemented or on any other aspect of employment law, please contact Louise on 0116 247 200 or at louise.haward@smithpartnership.co.uk.