The Government has announced that the new employment tribunal rules, drawn up as part of the Underhill Review last year, will come into force in the Summer (at the same time as fees for tribunal claims), rather than next month as originally expected. The revised rules, designed to reduce the number of claims by giving new powers to dispose of unmeritorious claims at an early stage, will largely reflect the recommendations made in the Underhill Review. There is one tweak to the proposal to combine Case Management Discussions and Pre-hearing Reviews into one preliminary hearing: 14 days' notice will be given to the parties, outlining the matters to be covered, where the preliminary hearing will deal with issues such as striking out; deposit orders or alternative ways of resolving disputes.
At the same time, the Government has given a progress report on other employment law reforms planned for this year, confirming changes due to come in this Summer:
- The cap on the unfair dismissal compensatory award (at the lower of one year's pay and the existing limit).
- The ability to conduct confidential settlement negotiations.
- The change to the whistleblowing detriment rules (claims must be brought in the public interest but do not have to be made in good faith; employers can be vicariously liable for workers' actions).
In the Autumn the proposals to change some aspects of the TUPE business transfer rules are expected; together with the new "employee shareholder" status, under which employees will be able to acquire shares in their employer in return for giving up some of their employment protection rights. The Chancellor announced in last week's Budget that the first £2,000 worth of shares – the minimum amount of shares that can be taken up under the scheme – will be free from income tax and NICs. (It had already been decided that gains on up to £50,000 of shares would be exempt from capital gains tax.) The announcement also confirmed that the new status will be available from 1 September. On the same day, however, the House of Lords voted to strike out the whole employee shareholder regime from the Growth and Infrastructure Bill and its future must therefore be in considerable doubt.