The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which received its second reading on 11 June, reveals considerably more detail about the Government’s plans to encourage quicker and easier resolution of employment disputes. The most significant change which the Bill will introduce is the compulsory referral of the majority of claims to ACAS before proceedings can be issued. A number of details will be filled in by secondary legislation, such as the length of the conciliation period and the scope of the exceptions, but the proposals in the Bill give us a fair idea of how this scheme will work.
Other employment measures in the Bill are there for similar reasons. These include provision for legal officers to hear simple disputes, streamlining the composition of the Employment Appeal Tribunal by removing the requirement for lay members in most cases, and imposing fines on employers for breaches of workers’ rights which have “aggravating features”. This is also a complicated provision which would allow the Government greater flexibility in setting the maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal, with the possibility that this could vary depending on the size of the employer.
The proposals in the Bill do not of course provide the complete picture. The Government is still thinking about the possibility of introducing a no-fault dismissal scheme for small businesses (see our blog posting here), and has yet to publish its final proposals about charging fees in the employment tribunal. There are also plans to re-write the tribunal rule book, not to mention plans for changes to other areas of employment law such as discrimination, collective consultation and TUPE.