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Forthcoming employment law changes, well-meaning but it's trouble ahead!

PUBLISHED: 17:24 04 April 2013 | UPDATED: 21:24 05 April 2013

Forthcoming employment law changes, well-meaning but it's trouble ahead!

Forthcoming employment law changes, well-meaning but it's trouble ahead!

Darren Sherborne examines these changes and what they mean for Cotswold employers...

Forthcoming employment law changes, well-meaning but its trouble ahead!

Darren Sherborne examines these changes and what they mean for Cotswold employers

We live in curious times from an employment relations point of view with a long running recession driving the current government to make life easier and less complicated for employers. However, the wheels of democracy trundle slowly while the landscape moves beneath it. Few of the governments employment law proposals have yet to be finalised and a curious situation has developed where the number of people employed in this country is at its highest ever number, while the number of unemployed people continues to rise in the Cotswolds. I can only think that no matter how bad we think it is, people from other countries still want to come here. I can see no other reason for these otherwise irreconcilable statistics. Whatever the cause, we are set on a wide ranging reorganisation of employment law in the coming year that, far from simplifying employment law landscape for employers, is likely to leave them bewildered.

Rather than confining all changes to employment law to April and October as has been done in the past, this years changes will be spread out over the whole year. Individually, I am sad to say that most of the changes taken in isolation are no more significant than a sheeps flatulence on a windy day! Collectively however, like the sheeps functions, there are going to be some flared nostrils amongst employers as they inadvertently step outside ever shifting boundaries.

The governments desire to discourage tribunal litigation will result in the introduction of costs in the tribunal. However these costs are token and may not discourage as many employees as envisaged because the minor costs of entering a tribunal claim will be means-tested for an employee. Call me old fashioned but wont people entering an unfair dismissal claim be unemployed and have limited means?

It has been little publicised (you heard it here first) but ACAS have a scheme of arbitration for unfair dismissal for either employer or employee and I expect to see a rise in the use of this scheme.

The new cost regime will not just hit employees. If employers are taken to tribunal and lose, not only will they need to pay compensation to the employee they will face a fine to be paid to the governments purse as well. In short in an attempt to reduce tribunals, the ante has upped for all parties. This may have the opposite effect to the one intended as a culture of paying off disgruntled employees may become the norm.

Further confusion will be caused to employers by a myriad of changes being foisted upon them in the coming year although many remain a triumph of form over substance.

Compromise Agreements are to be renamed Settlement Agreements and under the same rules employers will be able to have discussions with employees that are without prejudice unless the employer is involved in any way in wrongdoing against the employee. It would seem that when such discussions are truly safe will simply not be clear to employers unless they take advice.

In an attempt to make certain dismissals easier we will see the introduction of employee shareholder contracts where employees can give up rights to claim unfair dismissal at the outset of the relationship in exchange for company shares. This may work well in large companies for a small number of senior employees, but it is not going to change employment policy for owner managed businesses who will quickly lose control of their own company if they try this ploy too often. In any event, disputes about unfair dismissal will be replaced by disputes about share valuations.

The Transfer of Undertakings Regulations (TUPE) will also be revised, particularly in relation to how the regulations apply in tender situations. The rules on joint liability are due to change as is the shortening of the consultation period for collective redundancies often following a transfer. Employers are just starting to understand their obligations relating to employees when they win a tender and its all change again.

In addition to these changes there will be changes to shared parental leave, flexible working codes, pension and pension protection, all of which are too detailed to explore here.

Finally we will see changes to the discrimination laws whereby discrimination on the grounds of political opinion will remove the qualifying requirements on unfair dismissal. In short, sack somebody who does not have enough service to claim unfair dismissal and if they can suggest that the reason was their political opinion, then they will now be able to claim unfair dismissal even though they have short service.

Clearly the winners this year will be the lawyers, while employers who rise from the mud grasping what they thought was an understanding of their employment law obligations will find that it is just another wet sod and they have to return to floundering and wonder whether it wasnt better when they understood their obligations.

Sherbornes will be running a full plain English explanation of all changes For full details email reception@sherbornesllp.co.uk

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