The Government has today announced the next steps in its review of employment laws. It has published a comprehensive consultation document on resolving workplace disputes and an Employer’s Charter.
The key proposals set out in the consultation documents are:
- increasing the qualifying period for employees to be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal from one to two years. The aim is to give businesses greater confidence to hire new staff and ultimately reduce the number of disputes that go to employment tribunals;
- requiring all claims to be lodged with Acas in the first instance to allow pre-claim conciliation to be offered. The aim is to encourage parties to resolve disputes between themselves as early as possible;
- extending the jurisdictions where employment judges would sit alone to include unfair dismissal claims and allowing legal officers to deal with certain case management functions. The aim is to ensure that employment tribunal resources are used more efficiently and allow cases to be listed and heard more quickly, saving time and cost; and
- increasing employment tribunal powers so that they can tackle weak and vexatious claims more effectively.
The consultation document also confirms that the Government intends to require service users to contribute towards the cost of running employment tribunals by paying fees. It states that a fees mechanism will help to transfer some of the cost burden from general taxpayers to those who use the system. It states that a price mechanism could help incentivise earlier settlements and disincentivise unreasonable behaviour, such as pursuing weak or vexatious claims. The Government intends to consult on the details of these proposals in the Spring.
The Employer’s Charter is a two page document containing bullet points of actions employers are entitled to take to manage their employees as long as they act fairly and reasonably. The intention of the Charter is to raise awareness and, we assume, give confidence to employers that they can take action. The Charter is somewhat simplistic and does not purport to give advice on how the measures it implicitly commends can be carried out without the risk of legal challenge.