New Regulations pave the way for April’s employment tribunal changes

Last year the Government announced a number of measures aimed at resolving workplace disputes more quickly, reducing the pressure on the employment tribunal system and saving costs for employers and the taxpayer.

In November, amidst other announcements (see Education HR e-briefing 473), the Government gave April 2012 as its target date for extending the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from one to two years and for amending the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure as follows:

  • permitting unfair dismissal claims to be heard by judges sitting alone, without lay members;
  • increasing the maximum levels of deposit orders (from £500 to £1000) and costs awards (from £10,000 to £20,000);
  • requiring witness statements to be taken as read (and not read aloud) unless a tribunal directs otherwise; and
  • withdrawing state-funded witness expenses.

Over the last couple of weeks, the Government has published three draft Regulations which pave the way for an increased unfair dismissal qualifying period, for judges to sit alone in unfair dismissal cases from 6 April 2012 and to provide a power to increase the maximum amount for a deposit order. We await further draft Regulations to address witness statements and witness expenses.

Also in April, we expect Mr Justice Underhill to present the Government with the outcome of his fundamental review of employment tribunal procedure, meaning that we are embarking on the beginning of considerable change for employment tribunals.

The timescales for moving ahead with other announced tribunal changes, such as giving tribunals the discretion to impose financial penalties on employers found to have breached employment law and extending the early conciliation role of Acas, remain unclear given the need, in part, for primary legislation which typically takes a longer time to achieve.

Unfair dismissal service change – impact on existing employees

The draft Regulations address how raising the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from one to two years will impact on existing and new employees. The new two-year qualifying period will only apply to employees whose employment begins on or after 6 April 2012. Those who are already in employment before that date will retain the current one-year qualifying period.

Click the links below to take you to the Regulations:

The Employment Tribunals Act 1996 (Tribunal Composition) Order 2012

The Unfair Dismissal and Statement of Reasons for Dismissal (Variation of Qualifying Period) Order 2012

The Employment Tribunals (Increase of Maximum Deposit) Order 2012