Modernising the workplace
The coalition government has spent the past year consulting on its approach to employee relations. It has recently announced some forthcoming changes in UK employment legislation. Here is a summary of the changes coming this year:
- Parental leave (8 March)
- Changes to qualifying period for unfair dismissal (1 April)
- Changes to tribunal procedures (6 April)
- Automatic pensions enrolment (1 October)
Here is a little more detail on some of these changes:
Parental Leave Effective date:8 March 2012
The maximum parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child will increase from three months to four months unpaid leave. To promote equal opportunities and try to encourage a more equal take-up of leave by both parents at least one of the four months shall be provided on a non-transferable basis. For example, a mother can take three months but the remaining one month must be allocated to the father who can choose whether or not to take it.
Qualifying period for unfair dismissal Effective date:6 April 2012
The qualifying period for employees to bring a claim of unfair dismissal is increased from one year to two years.
Changes to tribunal procedures Effective date: 6 April 2012
- Deposit Orders:The maximum amount which a tribunal can order a party to pay as a condition to continuing with tribunal proceedings is increased from £500 to £1,000.
- Costs: The maximum amount which a tribunal may award in favour of a legally represented party is increased from £10,000 to £20,000.
- Witness statements: These are no longer read aloud, and are instead taken “as read”, unless the tribunal directs otherwise.
- Witness expenses: In addition tribunals have the power to direct that the parties in a dispute are responsible for paying witnesses’ expenses and that the party who loses the case should reimburse the successful party for any such costs already paid out.
However, the biggest change in employment tribunal set up is that employment judges will hear unfair dismissal cases alone in the employment tribunal, unless they direct otherwise, and judges will hear all cases alone in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, unless they direct otherwise.
Automatic pensions enrolment Effective date: 1 October 2012
The Pensions Act 2008 provides that employers must enrol automatically all eligible employees not already participating in a workplace pension scheme into the employer’s pension scheme or the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) pension scheme. The threshold for automatic enrolment is aligned with the personal allowance for income tax. Employers are not required to enrol individuals employed less than 12 weeks automatically. Further details can be found on the Department for Work and Pensions website. http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/workplace-pension-reform-consult.pdf
From an employer’s perspective the forthcoming changes may seem welcome such as increasing the qualifying time for unfair dismissal. However, the move to abolish employment tribunal panels in favour of one presiding judge means that both the trade union and business representatives will no longer be present and the decision will rest with one person. These changes come when recent figures from the Ministry of Justice show that tribunal claims between July and September 2011 dropped by 30% compared to the same time in 2010.
The coalition government seems to be emphasizing the need to re–balance the relationship between people’s work and family lives while at the same time vociferously opposing the Working Time Directive which might, interestingly enough, support its work/life balance agenda.