Tom Keighley

Member Article

Blacks Solicitors on employment law changes

The Chancellors Autumn 2011 Statement, set out numerous changes to employment law legislation, most notably with a view to reducing the number of claims passing through the Employment Tribunals system. Employment law solicitors, Euan Lawrence and Tom Moyes, from Leeds law firm Blacks Solicitors, explain the changes and give their views on how these may impact local businesses.

The first proposed change is to increase the qualifying period to issue a claim for unfair dismissal. Previously, it has only been possible to bring a claim for unfair dismissal (except in very limited circumstances) if an employee has worked at a company for a minimum of one year, but the government plans to extend this to two years. Euan comments, This extension aims to cut down on the number of claims of unfair dismissal, but I dont think it will reduce the number of overall cases. In my experience, an employee who has been dismissed will find an alternative claim such as for discrimination or whistleblowing which do not have a minimum length of service requirement.

The second proposed change is to introduce fees for issuing a claim in the Employment Tribunal, Euan explains:

“Under the current system, when employment tribunal proceedings are commenced, each side will pay for their own legal fees related to the proceedings. However, there is no separate Tribunal fee for issuing a claim. The proposal is to introduce a fee of 300 for each case that is issued, with the aim of dissuading employees from progressing unless they feel that they have a genuine claim. I do think that this will discourage some people, or at the very least will make them think more seriously about issuing proceedings; which may reduce the number of vexatious or unjustified claims.”

There are already rules in place to dissuade claimants who bring unreasonable claims. The current system requires a case to be submitted for preliminary review by a judge, before referral to a hearing. If the judge finds the allegation to be unfounded or very unlikely to succeed, they will direct either that the claimant withdraws the claim or to pay a one-off deposit of up to 500. The Chancellor proposes to increase this fee to 1,000 in an attempt to discourage misconceived cases. I am not sure what effect this will have. If someone is prepared to pay 500, then the likelihood is that they will also be willing to pay 1,000 to proceed.

Another proposed change is that all Employment Tribunal claims will begin by going through Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) before progressing to a hearing in a Tribunal. Tom explains, This is another step aimed at reducing the number of claims passing through Tribunal, with the intention that Acas could help claimants and their employers to reach a settlement outside of the Tribunal process before costs begin to mount. Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, the Chancellor has not proposed any additional funding for Acas and as such, I feel that it will put a lot of pressure on this already understaffed organisation. Acas provides a fantastic service in advising both employees and their employers, but an influx in claimants needs extra monetary provision.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Tom Keighley .

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