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Letting people go

Recent years have seen some changes for companies which want to dismiss workers with more being introduced this April (2013). It is worth both employers and employees fully understanding the procedure.

  • The qualifying period for unfair dismissal was increased from one to two years in April 2012 as a response to concerns amongst firms that dismissing workers was too expensive and time-consuming. There were fears that the threat of being taken to a tribunal every time a worker was dismissed was resulting in businesses being more reluctant to recruit and therefore this change was made. It is seen as a good balance in giving firms more flexibility to make tough decisions concerning dismissal but not affecting employee protections which are there from the first day of their employment. 
  • There is a commitment from the government to reduce the number of employment tribunals, citing evidence that many employees find them emotionally draining, while they are also blamed for contributing to low staff morale and heightened stress levels. The government says that conciliation services can be a great help in resolving disputes at work and wants to encourage more to take up this approach. It will do this in a number of ways:
  1. Encouraging more use of settlement agreements as a way of ending disputes. This way gives both sides more freedom to get to an agreed outcome and there is a better chance of both being satisfied than if the case proceeded on to a tribunal.
  2. Early conciliation is being provided before a claim can be lodged at an employment tribunal, giving the sides further opportunities to resolve their disputes.
  3. The government is aiming to provide the parties with more information on the benefits of settling disputes without the need to take a case to a tribunal.

Of course some cases cannot be resolved by conciliation and, in some cases, an employment tribunal is inevitable. To make the process easier for both sides the government intends to make a series of changes including:

  1. A new 12-month limit on the compensatory award for unfair dismissal which will run alongside the overall cap.
  2. Revised employment tribunal rules which aim to get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy and formulise existing good practice in case management.
  3. A Remissions System Review will be carried out to look into the fee remissions system throughout courts and tribunals. This will also look at the effects caused by the introduction of Universal Credit later this year.
  4. Employment tribunals will be given the power to impose fines on companies who are found to have breached employment rights, although genuine mistakes will not be penalised. The government hopes that this will lead to fewer workplace disputes and employment tribunal claims.
  5. Collective redundancy is being reformed with the consultation period for those companies wanting to make more than 100 employees redundant, being halved from 90 to 45 days.
  6. The government also says it will improve the information and support given to firms to help them through the redundancy process. It adds that it will cooperate with Acas to produce an online tool on the whole disciplinary process.