Changes to UK Employment Law – a November 2011 Update

In a previous article we wrote about George Osborne’s speech on proposed changes to UK Employment Law and this was followed swiftly by the leaked report from Adrian Beecroft suggesting further radical changes to assist employers.

The Government is clearly keen to press on with it’s reforms and we’ve already had two major announcements in November which we will outline for you here.

Unfair Dismissal and Protected Conversations

In a speech by David Cameron on 10 November 2011, he confirmed that the Government will consult on the introduction of “protected conversations”.  What is a protected conversation you might ask?  Mr Cameron advised that it’s

“so a boss and an employee feel able to sit down together and have a frank conversation at either’s request”

and Nick Clegg clarified this a little further by adding later that both parties would be able

“to treat other like human beings and not like potential litigants”

Nick Clegg has previously suggested that such a conversation could concern performance or retirement.  At this stage further details of how this would work are still sketchy, but we will provide updates as matters become clearer.

Secondly, the Prime Minister also used his speech to confirm what the Chancellor had already announced, that the qualifying period for unfair dismissal will increase from one to two years from April 2012.  Fees will also be introduced for individuals bringing employment tribunal claims.

A “Shake Up” of Employment Law

In a speech to the Engineering Employers Federation on 23 November 2011, the Business secretary Vince Cable ended months of speculation by announcing the Government’s proposals for a “shake up” of UK employment law.

In a consolidation of previously trailed ideas, firm proposals and matters for future consultation, the key points were as follows:

  • The qualifying period for bringing unfair dismissal claims will increase from one to two years
  • The Government will consult on the introduction of fees for lodging claims with the Employment Tribunal (“ET”)
  • All claims will have to be lodged with the conciliation service ACAS for an attempt at mediation before they can be lodged at the ET
  • The Government will consult on the concept of “no fault dismissals” for companies with less than ten employees.
  • The Government proposes the introduction of “protected conversations” (see above), where employers could speak to employees about issues in the workplace such as poor performance or retirement without being concerned that the content of their discussions could be used in any subsequent ET hearing. As would be expected, such conversations would not protect the employer from any discrimination.
  • Consideration will to be given to reducing the minimum period for collective redundancy consultation to 60, 45 or 30 days as opposed to the current 90 days.
  • The suggestion of a “rapid resolution scheme”, so that straightforward ET claims can be settled within three months
  • Financial penalties to be introduced for employers who breach employment rights.  These would be payable to the Exchequer and subject to an Employment Judge’s discretion.
  • A review of the Employment Tribunal rules of procedure
  • Employment Judges to able to sit alone in unfair dismissal cases (currently there are two additional lay-members present)
  • Consideration of how to “modernise” maternity and paternity leave to allow greater involvement for fathers

With all of these confirmed and proposed changes, it will be a challenge for employers and employees to keep up with the law over the next 12 months.  We will continue to provide regular updates, andyou have any questions you would like to ask of our expert team, please call on 01245 893400, email [email protected] or visit www.backhouse-solicitors.co.uk and go to the “Contact Backhouse” page.