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Employment Law Changes – April 2012

Fiona Martin

Fiona Martin

These are interesting times in the world of employment law, and change is afoot. Unfortunately the changes which will come in from tomorrow, 6 April 2012, will limit access to fair treatment for employees. Furthermore, the coalition Government’s planned changes are likely to cause confusion and uncertainty for both employers and employees.

The most important and retrograde change, which occurs tomorrow, is that the qualifying period for unfair dismissal will increase from one to two years. However, the good news is that this will only affect employees whose employment starts on or after 6 April 2012, meaning that those employees already in work before this date will not lose any of their rights. This will nevertheless have the unfortunate effect of creating a two tier system, with some employees having greater rights than others, even though they may have only been hired a few days apart.

In addition, the maximum deposit that either employers or employees may be required to pay if their claim or defence has little reasonable prospect of success has changed. This increases from £500 to £1,000. However, in our experience these are rarely used. This may be because it is the unrepresented employee or employer who faces a deposit order because they haven’t had the benefit of professional assistance in setting out their claim or defence. In addition to the increase in deposits, maximum costs awards have been raised from £10,000 to £20,000, for example where a party has acted unreasonably or vexatiously. (However, there always was the opportunity to apply for an increase over and above £10,000 by having the bill taxed.)

Another change will be that witness statements will be taken “as read” at the hearing unless a Judge or Tribunal directs otherwise. This means the Judge will not have the statement read out to them by the witness. This applies to all cases that are heard on or after 6 April 2012. Witness expenses paid by the Tribunal service are to be withdrawn; this affects claims presented on or after 6 April 2012. In addition, Judges will now sit alone on unfair dismissal claims. This was something that neither employers, employers’ representatives or employee representatives were very keen on because the practical input supplied by unpaid wing members (who usually come from employer or trade union organisations) is seen to be of value.

Consultation still continues on a number of controversial issues. I am pleased to advise that I am part of an Employment Lawyers Association micro firms working party which will look at compensated no-fault dismissals for micro-employers. Twenty lawyers in all will work in groups to deal with the different issues that are likely to arise, and these results will be fed back to the Government. However, as has been seen in relation to other consultation processes, there is no guarantee that the Government will listen when the overriding objective seems to be cost savings for the Tribunal service.

And on that note, Happy Easter!

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