In a speech last week about boosting exports the Prime Minister confirmed that the Government would be consulting about “protected conversations”, an idea first floated last month by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Some see this as a compromise retreat from the introduction of a “no fault” dismissal regime, which was suggested in an extract from a draft report by Adrian Beecroft leaked to the press earlier this month.
The speech gives little away about how this new idea would work, other than to say that a boss and an employee should each feel free to sit down and have a “frank conversation”. Presumably this is addressing fears, at least on the employer’s side, that to express forthright views that things may not be working out could amount to a breach of contract. That could bring the employment relationship to an end and trigger proceedings in the tribunal. This problem is more a question of perception than reality. Performance management has always been possible within the existing legal framework if handled correctly, though that is not something that all employers find easy in practice.
Perhaps more will be revealed when the Government finally publishes its response to the consultation on resolving workplace disputes which is expected later this month. We already know from previous announcements that the response will include a plan to increase the unfair dismissal qualifying period to two years with effect from April next year. But there are many other proposals about which we await further information. It has also been decided to introduce fees in the employment tribunal, which will be the subject of a separate consultation.