Changes to watch out for in April

CarolineLeaver

Below is a round up of the changes in employment law we can expect in the next few weeks:

Employment tribunals and compensatory awards – The maximum compensatory award will increase from £74,200 to £76,574 (subject to the limit of one year’s pay which has existed since July 2013) in respect of dismissals that take place on or after 6th April 2014.

Employment tribunals and a week’s pay – The maximum of a week’s pay increases from £450 to £464 in respect of dismissals and other entitlements on and from 6th April 2014. A week’s pay is used to calculate, amongst other things, the basic award for an unfair dismissal and the statutory redundancy payment.

It is worth bearing in mind that if an employer is about to commence a redundancy process, there will be a saving to the business if the redundancies are completed before 6th April 2014.

Employment tribunals and discrimination questionnaires – Discrimination questionnaires will be abolished from 6th April 2014. Although some employers found questionnaires cumbersome as collating the information could be onerous and they saw little value in them, others found them useful to prompt a quick resolution, either through early settlement or showing that no discrimination took place, and so preventing unnecessary proceedings.

Instead of questionnaires, there will now be a new ‘informal’ approach. The government considers that this non-legislative approach, which is set out in Acas guidance, will be “fairer for all” and that this will enable businesses to better challenge any unreasonable requests for information. The guidance has now been issued by Acas and includes advice on how individuals can ask questions and why employers and service providers should respond. http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/m/p/Asking-and-responding-to-questions-of-discrimination-in-the-workplace.pdf

Therefore, repealing the statutory questionnaire procedure does not prevent individuals who believe that they have been discriminated against from using other means of obtaining information. It will simply remove the statutory mechanism, not the scope for establishing facts about whether discrimination has occurred. There is no legal obligation to answer any questions. However, a Tribunal may look at whether a business has responded and, if so, how they have responded as a factor when considering their decision on a discrimination claim. Also the Tribunal can actually order a business to provide answers as part of the process in any event. These are issues a business would need to weigh up when considering whether to reply and what to say.

Employment tribunals and Acas conciliation – the early conciliation scheme will start on 6th April 2014 and there will be a transitional period between 6th April and 5th May 2014 during which time prospective claimants can participate in early conciliation which will become mandatory in respect of claims presented on or after 6th May 2014. The intention behind the introduction of conciliation periods is to give the parties an opportunity to settle any claims before a claim is submitted, thereby reducing claims and making the tribunal system more effective.

Before lodging a claim, a prospective claimant must send Acas information of the claim in the prescribed manner and then Acas will forward this information to a conciliation officer. The officer must try to promote settlement within one month and if settlement is not reached, either because settlement is not possible in the conciliation officer’s view or the period expires, the officer must issue a certificate to that effect. A claimant may not submit a claim in tribunal without this certificate.

The introduction of fees in the employment tribunal on 29th July 2013 and the effect they have had on the number of employment tribunal claims (please see our earlier blog on this topic) may have a significant effect on the parties’ willingness to settle.

Individuals may be more willing to settle (and may therefore settle for a lower amount) in order to save the issue fee. Employers, on the other hand, may show an increased tendency to “wait and see” whether the claimant is serious, and may therefore be less likely to settle (or less likely to offer anything other than a derisory sum in settlement) until after the fee has been paid.

Only time will tell.