New and revised employment laws came into force yesterday (6 April).

ACAS Early Conciliation

ACAS is now able to offer optional Early Conciliation to help to settle a dispute without going to tribunal. For claims lodged on or after 6 May 2014, it will become a mandatory requirement, unless an exemption applies, for a claimant to have made an Early Conciliation notification to ACAS. Tribunal claims will not be accepted unless the complaint has been referred to ACAS and a conciliation certificate issued. This certificate confirms that the Early Conciliation requirements have been met. The initial period of Early Conciliation is intended to be up to one calendar month. However, if both parties agree that longer is needed, the period can be extended, only once, by a further 14 days. Generally the limitation periods for bringing claims at the Employment Tribunal are either three or six calendar months depending on the nature of the claim. When the claimant contacts ACAS this will "pause" the time limit for presenting their claim to a tribunal. This pause can be for up to one calendar month, plus a further 14 days if more time is needed. The time limit will start to run again when the claimant receives their formal acknowledgement (the certificate) that Early Conciliation has finished.

Statutory discrimination and equal pay questionnaire

The statutory discrimination and equal pay questionnaire process has been abolished. However, individuals who suspect that they have been discriminated against may still ask questions of their employer. ACAS have published the following guidance to assist employees in devising informal questions and guide employers in responding to such questions. No adverse inferences may now be drawn from an employer's failure to respond to questions asked about discrimination or from ambiguous answers. However, an Employment Tribunal may look at whether and how an employer has answered questions as a contributing factor in making their overall decision on a claim. Therefore, notwithstanding that the questionnaire process has been abolished, employers will still need to take care to ensure questions about discrimination are properly answered.

Statutory sick pay record-keeping obligations

The Government has abolished the statutory sick pay record-keeping obligations, allowing employers to keep records in a more flexible manner and for a shorter period of time.

Annual index-linked compensatory award limits

The date for the annual index-linked compensatory award limits for Employment Tribunal claims has moved from 1 February to 6 April. For claimants whose effective date of termination falls on or after 6 April 2014, the maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal claims has increased from £74,200 to £76,574 and a week's pay (which is used for calculating statutory redundancy payments and the basic unfair dismissal award) has increased from £450 to £464.

Financial penalties for losing employers to be imposed

Employment Tribunals now have the power to impose a financial penalty on employers who unsuccessfully defend a claim. If pecuniary compensation is awarded, then the financial penalty must be 50% of the amount of the award, with a minimum threshold of £100 and a maximum cap of £5,000. Where a non-financial award is made, the tribunal is able to ascribe a monetary value. The penalty will be reduced by 50% if paid within 21 days. However, the levy of a financial penalty will be at the tribunal's discretion; it will not be automatic. The Tribunal’s discretion allows them to take into account the employer's size and resources as well as the duration of the breach of the employment right and the behaviour of both the employer and employee.

The Courts and Tribunals Fees (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2014

The main effect of the order from an Employment Law perspective is to re-classify as "Type B" claims (attracting higher fees (£250 issue fee and £950 hearing fee for a single claimant)) equal pay, sex equality in pension schemes, failure to inform or consult under TUPE, failure to allow compensatory rest under the Working Time Regulations 1998 and breach of the right to request time off for training. The change seeks to remedy what the government has identified as a mistake in the original legislation which categorised those claims as "Type A", attracting the lower fees (£160 issue fee and £230 hearing fee).

Pension protection regime operating on TUPE transfers

Changes to the current pension protection regime now offer the transferee employer the option of matching the transferor employer's level of employee contributions as an alternative to the previous requirement of matching the employee's chosen contribution rate up to 6%. The changes intend to reflect the introduction of the employer auto-enrolment duties under the Pensions Act 2008, particularly the minimum contribution requirement, and to prevent a situation where a transferee employer must pay a higher level of contributions than either the employee's old employer, or that required by the Pensions Act 2008.