Ben Gorner, a partner in our Birmingham office, comments: In recent weeks the Government has announced a number of key changes to employment law which will be coming into force in the next few months.
Rates and limits
Changes to tribunal compensation limits, which historically took effect in February, have been moved to April. On 6 April 2014 the maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal will rise from £74,200 to £76,574. The maximum amount of a week’s pay, used to calculate redundancy payments or various awards including the basic or additional award of compensation for unfair dismissal, also rises from £450 to £464. The new rates will apply to any dismissals where the effective date of termination is on or after 6 April 2014. Different rates apply in Northern Ireland. Other changes to statutory rates and limits will also come into force on 6 April, including changes to statutory maternity pay and statutory sick pay. For full details of the new limits click here to access the rates and limits section.
Early conciliation in tribunal proceedings
On 18 February the government confirmed that the new ACAS early conciliation (EC) scheme will be available to claimants from 6 April 2014 and mandatory for tribunal claims presented on or after 6 May 2014. EC comprises a four-step procedure under which a prospective claimant is required to contact ACAS before issuing relevant proceedings (which includes the majority of claims):
Step 1: The prospective claimant must send “prescribed information” in the “prescribed manner” to ACAS. This information is limited to the name and address of the prospective claimant and respondent.
Step 2: After an early conciliation support officer has made initial contact with the prospective claimant and confirmed that they wish to proceed, the claimant’s information is sent to a conciliation officer.
Step 3: The conciliation officer must try to promote a settlement within a “prescribed period”.
Step 4: If a settlement is not reached, either because the conciliation officer considers that settlement is not possible, or because the prescribed period expires, the conciliation officer must issue a certificate to that effect. The prospective claimant will be unable to pursue most tribunal claims without this certificate.
There is no requirement on either party to actually engage in conciliation. The immediate impact for employers will be delay in employees bringing claims. The EC scheme provides for the usual three month limitation period to bring a tribunal claim to be extended to take account of the conciliation period.
Finally, the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees, not just carers and parents, with effect from 30 June 2014. The right to request flexible working will apply to all employees with 26 weeks’ qualifying service with the employer. The statutory request procedure will be repealed and replaced with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable period of time. Although the final legislation has not yet been published, it seems likely that:
The employee will continue to have to include prescribed information in their application
The statutory grounds for refusal will continue to apply
There will be a time limit of three months for the employer to make a decision on the employee’s request but this period may be extended by mutual agreement
Employers will be able to treat an application as withdrawn if the employee fails to turn up to two application/appeal meetings without good reason and the employer notifies the employee that it has decided to treat the employee’s conduct as a withdrawal of the application
The limit of one request per 12 months will continue to apply
Employees will be able to bring a complaint in the employment tribunal if the employee considers that:
the employer has not dealt with their application in a reasonable manner or they have not been notified of the employer’s decision within the 3 month time period (or such mutually agreed extended period);
the employer’s decision to reject their application was based on incorrect facts; or
the employer’s notification to the employee that they considered their application to be withdrawn did not meet the statutory requirements
An employment tribunal complaint cannot be made until the employer has notified the employee of its decision or the 3 month period (or such extended period as has been mutually agreed) comes to an end without the employer notifying the employee of its decision. A complaint in relation to deemed withdrawal may be made as soon as the notification of deemed withdrawal is given to the employee.
ACAS has published a guide to handling requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner.
Employers are likely to need a new flexible working policy to reflect the change in eligibility and procedure.