Louise Connacher
Alan M.Baker

Member Article

Changes to employment law

Louise Connacher, Leeds Legal Advocate and Director & Head of Employment at Lupton Fawcett, examines changes to employment law. She asks: radical shake-up or more of the same?

Every Government at some stage during its term introduces changes to employment law, and the current Coalition is no exception. Last November, Vince Cable announced a “radical” reform of employment relations, aimed at giving employers the confidence to recruit new employees. A raft of changes has been proposed, most of which are designed to be employer friendly.

Leading the headlines is the decision to increase the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims from one year to two years. This means that employees will have to work for two complete years for an employer before being entitled to claim unfair dismissal. The legislation will come into force on 6 April. However, employers should take care; only those new employees starting work on or after 6 April will fall within the new rules. This means, for example, that an employee who has already clocked up 18 months’ service as at 6 April will still be able to bring an unfair dismissal claim after 6 April. Equally, an employee with 11 months’ service as at 6 April will only have to work one more month to qualify for the unfair dismissal right. Employers currently in the process of recruiting, therefore, should insist on a start date of 6 April or later in order to benefit from the new legislation.

Another proposal is for employers to be able to hold “protected conversations” with employees, so that both sides can “sit down together and have a frank conversation” without fear that the discussion will then be used against the employer in a Tribunal. Whilst this proposal has met with popular support amongst employers, it is not without its problems. In particular, the legislation will not protect employers who make discriminatory comments during the course of the “protected conversation”. This means that it is unlikely that employers will be able to discuss issues such as an employee’s retirement plans, for fear of an age discrimination claim. For this legislation to work, it will have to be very clearly drafted so that employers understand exactly where they stand.

A shake-up of the Tribunal system is also proposed. The most important change will be the introduction of fees for individuals who wish to bring Tribunal claims. The Government is currently consulting on the details. Whilst the proposals appear to introduce a welcome deterrent to individuals with weak claims, fees will not be charged to those employees who are on Job Seekers Allowance, or otherwise in financial difficulties. Since this is likely to cover most individuals who have just been sacked, one wonders whether this proposal will really have the effect intended.

Other changes to Tribunal procedure, to mass redundancy consultations, and to the transfer of undertakings legislation are also proposed, although it will be some time before final details are available.

It is to be hoped that the Government’s proposals really do make things easier for employers in these difficult times, although those of us who have seen previous Governments’ “radical” reviews are perhaps more sceptical…

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Alan M.Baker .

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