A number of changes to employment law took effect from 6 April 2014, including:

Rise in compensation limits

From 6 April 2014, a week’s pay (used, for example, to calculate statutory redundancy payments) increased to £464 from £450. The maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal increased to £76,574 for those cases where this exceeds the equivalent of 12 months’ of a claimant's pay.

Introduction of new early conciliation process in employment disputes

A new free-to-use process of early conciliation was introduced, initially voluntarily, from 6 April and  involves conciliation through Acas (a state conciliation and arbitration body offering its services to both employers and employees). The aim being to reduce the number of disputes litigated at Employment Tribunal by conciliating them before a claim is even made.

From 6 May, it became a requirement for most potential claimants to notify Acas before they are permitted to present a claim involving a workplace dispute to the Employment Tribunal. Acas endeavours to conciliate a settlement, although both parties remain at liberty to decline to participate in that process. All claims which fall within the compulsory early conciliation process require a formal certificate from Acas before being processed by the Tribunal. The relevant time limits for bringing claims are extended whilst conciliation discussions are pursued.

New tribunal penalties for employers

Financial penalties have been introduced for the first time for employers found by a Tribunal to have breached employment rights in an aggravated (eg malicious or reckless) way, where the claim is presented on or after 6 April 2014. In such circumstances, the Tribunal has a discretion to order the employer to pay a financial penalty. Any penalty is payable to the Secretary of State, on top of any compensation due to the employee. The starting point for determining the amount of any penalty the Tribunal decides to award is 50% of the compensation awarded, subject to a minimum penalty of £100 and maximum of £5,000, with a 50% reduction applying for early payment. However, where an individual brings multiple claims relating to different acts then each claim may be the subject of its own penalty, with the minimum and maximum amounts applying to each separate penalty.

Increase to immigration fines

An employer who employs an individual lacking the right to work in the UK, is liable to a civil penalty, in addition to any criminal liability. The maximum civil penalty has increased in May 2014 from £10,000 per individual employee to £20,000.

Other things to watch out for later this year:

  • Extension of the right to request flexible working – beyond carers and children with parents, to all employees; 
  • Compulsory equal pay audits – as a new tribunal power; 
  • Prospective fathers or a mother’s partner will be able to take time off to attend up to 2 antenatal appointments.