Important employment law changes imminent
There are a number of important employment law developments taking place on 6 April 2014 which all employers, regardless of their size, need to be aware of.
So what's happening?
Mandatory ACAS pre-claim conciliation
6 April sees the introduction of the mandatory, four step ACAS pre-claim conciliation scheme for potential claimants in Employment Tribunal proceedings. The purpose of the scheme is to save employees and employers the stress and cost of litigation.
How will the scheme work? Basically, the first step is for the prospective claimant to send "prescribed information" to ACAS which will then telephone the potential claimant within one working day to clarify any details on the application form and gather basic information. The case is then passed on to a conciliation officer who will aim to make contact with both parties within one working day of receiving the case. The conciliation offer must try to promote a settlement within a month (with 14 more days if agreed). note however that actually engaging with the conciliation process is voluntary. If a settlement is not reached the conciliation officer must issue a certificate to that effect. Only once the certificate has been issues can proceedings be commenced.
Since our earlier e bulletin, the government has published details of the transitional arrangements. During the transitional period between 6 April and 5 May early conciliation is available to ( but not mandatory) for prospective claimants. The scheme is mandatory for claims presented on or after 6 May.
It will be interesting to see in the coming months what impact pre-claim conciliation has on the number of Employment Tribunal claims. The expectation is that the free, quick, confidential scheme will be an effective way of resolving workplace disputes.
We now have a very good idea of the impact that Employment Tribunal fees (introduced in July 2013) has had on the number of claims. Statistics recentlypublished for the period October to December 2013 show a 79% fall in the number of Employment Tribunal claims compared to the same period in 2012 with a 65% fall in unfair dismissal claims.
Financial penalties for employers
Also from 6 April, Employment Tribunal Judges have the discretion to impose on employers who lose their case a penalty of 50% of any financial award made to the claimant. The penalty is payable where there are “aggravating features”. This is not defined but is likely to mean unreasonable behaviour or malice. Note that, the penalty is paid to the Secretary of State and not the successful claimant.
There is a minimum threshold of £100 and a maximum cap of £5,000 but the penalty will be reduced by 50% if it is paid within 21 days. Employment Tribunal Judges must take account of the employer’s ability to pay and other factors such as the size of the organisation and the duration of the breach of the employment right.
Discrimination questionnaires abolished
On 6 April, section 138 of the Equality Act 2010 is repealed, abolishing discrimination Questionnaires. These are the means by which claimants/potential claimants obtain information from their employers in discrimination cases. ACAS has produced new guidance on asking/responding to questions about discrimination in the workplace and this includes a template for questioners.
Increase in statutory rates and limits
Details of the compensation limit for unfair dismissal were confirmed on 26 February and this increases from £74,200 to £76,574 or 52 weeks' gross salary whichever is the Iower.
Other changes from 6th April include:
- The limit on a week¡¦s pay for calculating statutory redundancy pay increases from £450 to £464.
- Statutory Sick Pay increases from £86.70 to £87.55 a week.
- Statutory maternity, adoption and paternity pay increases from £136.78 to £138.18 a week.
But that's not all. With the important changes to family friendly rights set out in our e bulletin number 64 the dates 30 June and 1 October 2014 will also need to be diarised with more developments still to come as the year progresses.