The Government has confirmed this week their plans to ‘overhaul’ key areas of employment legislation following several months of consultation and the Red Tape Challenge. Will any of these make life easier for employers by reducing red tape, or be fair to employees?
The areas they have outlined are –
- A Government consultation that could result in micro-businesses – organisations with fewer than 10 employees – being free to use the “compensated no-fault dismissal” system that was suggested in a leaked report earlier this year. This would allow employers to sack underperforming staff with basic redundancy pay and notice.
- The “slimming down” of existing dismissal processes and identifying ways in which they might be simplified, potentially by making changes to the “Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures”.
- Confirmation that from April 2012 the qualification period for taking a case for unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal will be increased from one to two years. It considers that this will have “a positive impact on business confidence”, and will reduce the number of unfair dismissal claims by between 1,600 and 2,100.
- The Government will create a “standard text” for compromise agreements, with guidance. The Government will change the name of compromise agreements to “settlement agreements” in primary legislation.
- In 2012, the Government will consult on the introduction of a system of “protected conversations” that would allow either employers or employees to initiate a discussion about an employment issue “at any time…as a way of resolving the matter without fear”. These measures are designed to reduce bureaucracy and would not be admissible conversations at an Employment Tribunal.
More information about Protected Conversations:
- They could be used by employers to discuss difficult issues like productivity and retirement without threat of legal action from the employee.
- It is recognised that the rules around them will be very complicated to draft and should include the right for employees not to take part in the conversation to avoid unscrupulous employers taking advantage of the status of the conversation to make unreasonable demands.
- The Government have however confirmed that such conversations will not shield employers from discrimination claims.
The Tribunal System
- The Government has asked for a “fundamental review” of the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure, to be completed by the end of April 2012, with the intention of producing a streamlined procedural code that addresses concerns that the Rules have become too complex over time.
- The Ministry of Justice will publish a consultation on the introduction of tribunal fees where users of the system will have to pay fees in order to encourage them to “consider seriously the validity of their claim”. The consultation will set out two proposals – the first is that employees pay an initial fee to lodge a claim and a second fee to take the claim to a Tribunal hearing. The second option proposes introducing a £30,000 threshold, so those seeking an award above this level will pay more to bring a claim.
- Also under the proposed changes to the tribunal system, all employment disputes would be required to go to Acas for pre-claim conciliation before proceeding to a tribunal. The basic early conciliation period will be one month. Where early conciliation is refused or is unsuccessful the claimant will be allowed to lodge his or her claim with the tribunal.
- The Government intends to introduce a discretionary power for employment tribunals to impose a financial penalty on employers that have been found to have breached employment rights, payable to the Exchequer.
- Rapid resolution for certain types of claims. The Government will consult on how to introduce a scheme to provide quicker, cheaper decisions in low value, straightforward claims such as those for holiday pay, with the intention of saving time and money.
The Government has launched a call for evidence regarding the rules governing statutory consultations on collective redundancies. In particular, it wishes to “explore the consequences” of reducing the current 90-day minimum consultation period to 60, 45 or 30 days.
The Government has launched a call for evidence on the effectiveness of the TUPE regulations and how they might be improved. The Government is “concerned” that some businesses believe the TUPE regulations are overly bureaucratic.
The Government will amend the whistleblowing legislation to stop employees from being able to “blow the whistle” about breaches to their own employment contracts, which it says is not something that the legislation was designed to achieve.
Criminal Records Bureau checks:
From 2013, once a CRB check has been completed, the results will be available online for employers to confirm that no new information has been added since the check was originally conducted. This will mean that CRB checks are portable, and that an employee will not have to have a new check every time he or she starts a new job.
National Minimum Wage legislation:
The Government will simplify the minimum wage legislation by merging the current body of 17 different regulations into one consolidated set.