Global Employment Law

Consultation on Resolving Workplace Disputes Launched

Face OffThe UK's Coalition Government has launched a major consultation on reforming employment tribunals and the resolution of workplace disputes. The stated aims of the proposed measures are:

  • achieving more early resolution of disputes;
  • ensuring that the employment tribunal process is as swift, user friendly and effective as possible; and
  • helping business feel more confident about hiring people.

The document includes two highly controversial proposals that the Government has previously trailed: an increase in the qualification period for claiming unfair dismissal from one to two years (see our previous article on the background to this); and the introduction of a fee for lodging an employment tribunal claim. With regard to the latter, employers' organisations in the UK have been lobbying hard for a fee of up to £500 to discourage weak and spurious applications.

The consultation document refers to introducing "fee-charging mechanisms" for lodging claims (and counter-claims) in employment tribunals, but also potentially for parties in claims that proceed to a full hearing. The Government says it will consult on this separately in the spring, once the options have been developed more fully.

The Government has also published its so-called Employer's Charter (pdf) - a short, rather anodyne document reminding employers of certain 'rights' they have - e.g., to contact a woman on maternity leave and ask when she plans to return; to ask an employee to take a pay cut; to dismiss for poor performance.

Other proposals set out in the consultation document include:

  • Exploring how greater use can be made of alternative dispute resolution tools such as mediation.
  • Requiring all claims to be submitted to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in the first instance, rather than the Tribunals Service, and allowing ACAS a specified period (up to one month) to offer pre-claim conciliation.
  • More flexible powers for employment tribunals to strike out weak and vexatious claims.
  • A process for allowing offers of settlement to be 'paid in' to the employment tribunal if they are rejected, with the prospect of a costs order if the tribunal subsequently makes a lower award.
  • Withdrawing the payment of expenses in employment tribunal hearings, to encourage parties to settle earlier and to think more carefully about the number of witnesses they call.
  • Extending the jurisdictions where employment tribunal judges can sit alone (without lay members) to include unfair dismissal; and removing the general requirement for tripartite panels in the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The consultation will close on 20 April 2011.

This entry was written by Richard Lister.

Photo credit: iofoto