HM Insights

Changes to employment tribunal process come into force

As midnight struck on April 6th two new developments in employment tribunal process took effect. One of the changes is really rather radical and the other is similar to something we've seen before.

The most spoken of is the mandatory early conciliation process that all prospective claimants have to follow, with ACAS. Essentially similar to the principles of internal conciliation that employers and employees previously had to follow through using and following internal disciplinary and grievance procedures to unlock the tribunal's doors, the mandatory early conciliation process will require an employee to get a certificate from ACAS in order to lodge a claim.

Whilst neither the employer nor employee will be obliged to follow early conciliation, the process will be interesting for employers and employees alike. Expectations of either party may be difficult for ACAS to match. ACAS will not be able to advise in relation to the merits of a dispute and will provide shuttle diplomacy only.

Separately, limits on the maximum payable for an ordinary unfair dismissal claim, together with a weeks pay for statutory purposes, have risen from £74,200 to £76,574 and £450 to £464 respectively.

Employers should also be aware that from 6th April tribunals will, for the first time, have the power to impose a financial penalty on the employer who loses in the employment tribunal. This will be if there are aggravating features to the loss of the case, such as a disregard for following procedure. The financial penalty will be 50% of any financial award, with a minimum threshold of £100 and a maximum cap of £5,000 (and where a non-financial award is made, the tribunal is able to ascribe a monetary value). Whilst the penalty will be reduced by 50% if paid within 21 days and the levy of a financial penalty will be at the tribunal's discretion (it will not be automatic) one somewhat surprising feature is that the penalty will not be payable to the claimant, but to the Secretary of State.

To best protect your business against these risks and increase confidence in decision-making in the workplace (both for employers and employees) it is important to regularly review your policies and procedures, not merely to ensure that they are compliant with legislative changes, but to ensure that they continue to fit your business and workplace. Regular training for managers and employees is advisable too.

If you've not reviewed your employee handbook recently, we can help, both through checking your existing content and recommending changes, along with any documents you require. For example, changes will be required in the coming months to flexible working policies and planning will be needed to consider how those changes may affect workplace strategies and resourcing. Looking further forward to changes likely to occur in early 2015 with shared parental leave replacing maternity leave, resourcing, strategy and training are going to be ever more important within the modern workplace. It's also a good idea to ensure that employees' contracts of employment are regularly reviewed and updated.

Aside from demonstrating good governance of the employment relationship and providing a platform for all employees to perform, having up-to-date and appropriate documentation within the workplace ensures that you stand the best chance of properly implementing suitable policies and procedures and maintaining good workplace relations. And if they break down, you'll be best placed to successfully defend any claim and not risk any penalty.

We can help with all of this. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you'd like to discuss any of this further.