Amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to address protected conversations were published yesterday. The same day BIS published its proposals for dealing with binding shareholder votes on the pay of executives in listed companies, which will also be incorporated in the Bill.
The Bill as originally published last month already covers a considerable amount of ground on the employment front (see our posting here). The proposals on protected conversations were not in the original Bill but were announced by Vince Cable during the second reading debate. The amendments now published show that the scope of the idea has narrowed considerably since it was first floated last year. As the amendments stand, the protection will extend only to standard unfair dismissal claims, and there will be an exception if the employer does anything which in the tribunal’s opinion is “improper”. But within these limits, an employee will not be able to refer to what has been said in negotiations where these are conducted “with a view to terminating the employment on agreed terms”. The intention is to make life easier for employers, but it is not difficult to see how these new provisions could lead to satellite litigation, particularly over what amounts to improper conduct in this context.
The proposals on binding shareholder votes, unlike protected conversations, have already been the subject of formal consultation. But we will have to wait until the clauses and accompanying regulations are published to know exactly what to make of them. No doubt the debate in Committee will be vigorous, as it has already proved a controversial area during the second reading of the Bill.