Employment Law and other statutory changes - Spring 2014

Blog posts

7 Apr 2014

Jenny Holmes

As trailed in my blog post in September 2013, here is an update on employment law and other statutory changes that are coming into force with the beginning of the tax year on 6 April, as well as a couple of other interesting changes due over the summer and into the autumn.

Acas early conciliation process

The new early conciliation service from Acas (available from 6 April 2014 and required from 6 May 2014) is intended to encourage employees and employers to reach a settlement without the costs and stress of going through the employment tribunal service (Acas state that the average employment tribunal currently costs employers £3,700 and takes four days ).

Employees will be required to contact Acas for a discussion about the possibility of conciliation before they are able to submit a claim to the Employment Tribunal. If the conciliation service has not helped the parties come to a resolution within the initial calendar month (or if either the employee or the employer do not wish to take part in conciliation), Acas will issue a certificate which allows the employee to submit their claim to the tribunal. The clock on usual time limits for claims is paused while the conciliation process is underway.

In combination with the fees that we outlined in the last blog post, this should be a further step towards reducing the volume of claims through the tribunal service, speed up resolution time and reduce the cost of employee relations issues, both for those claims which can be settled through the conciliation process as well as for those which do still need to use the tribunal service.

Financial penalties on employers in breach of employment rights

In another step possibly intended to encourage good use of the early conciliation service, employment tribunals are going to have the right to impose a financial penalty on employers who have been found to have breached the claimant's employment rights. This penalty is separate from any award made by the tribunal to the claimant in considering the claim itself. If the tribunal has made a non-financial award to the claimant and considers that the employer has breached the claimant's employment rights, the penalty can range from £100 to £5000. If the award has been financial, the penalty will be 50% of the claimant's award subject to the same minimum of £100 and maximum of £5,000.

This additional financial penalty is intended to reduce deliberate and repeated breaches of employment laws and applies when the breach has one or more 'aggravating' features. This concept is not entirely defined but we do know that the employment tribunal will come to a decision based on the circumstances of the case and of the employer such as whether 'the action was deliberate or committed with malice, the employer was an organisation with a dedicated human resources team, or where the employer had repeatedly breached the employment right concerned'.

It will be interesting to see how many financial penalties are made and whether there is any pattern to the types of cases or types of employers that attract the penalty.

An extension to flexible working rights to all employees

Originally due to come into force on 6 April 2014, but now postponed to 30 June 2014, is the extension to flexible working rights to all employees with 26 weeks' service or more removing the ringfencing of this right to parents and carers. As previously, this is a right to request rather than a right to work flexibly. Simultaneously, the process has been simplified from the current request process in which meetings have to be held within 28 days of requests and letters written within 14 days to a more straightforward duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner and to conclude this consideration process within three months of first receiving the request. The existing reasons to refuse requests remain in place.

Jenny Willott, Employment Relations Minister, commented: 'By enabling any employee to request to work flexibly, we want to remove any cultural assumption that flexible working is only for women, or just for parents and carers. We want these reforms to bring about a culture change in Britain's workplaces, allowing everyone to better balance work with their personal life in the way that works for them'.

The Health and Work Service

Also on the horizon is an interesting new scheme by the Government to support small and medium sized enterprises and their employees with occupational health services. It is currently at tender stage with the awarding of the contract due in June 2014 and the service launched from October 2014 phased across the whole of England and Wales by April 2015. Intended to support those individuals who do not already have OH services provided to them through their employer , it is due to be a two-part service consisting of OH assessments for employees who have been off for four weeks or more as well as a more general web and phone advice service for employers, employees and GPs. If this service can provide useful support to the nearly one million employees a year who reach the four-week sickness absence point , it will be very valuable to employers.

Due care has been taken in compiling this blog post, however neither the author nor IES cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. This document is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice.

About Jenny Holmes

Jenny Holmes joined IES as a Research Officer focused on employer-based research in 2013. She has extensive HR practitioner experience across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, as part of in-house teams and as well as an external consultant through her own consultancy.

Her areas of particular interest are the direction and development of employment legislation, employee engagement, changing demographics and the broad impact this has on the workplace, as well as health, wellbeing and disability in the workplace.

To arrange a media interview with Jenny, please email lorna.hardy@employment-studies.co.uk or call 01273 763 414.

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