Joanne Kavanagh sets out employment law changes in force from April 2012
The qualifying period for unfair dismissal will increase from one to two years for employees appointed on/after 6 April 2012. Employers will wish to review their disciplinary procedures for such employees so that they are not obliged to adhere to them until the employees have more than one years service.
Changes in employment tribunal procedures
Following Government consultation on ways to reduce the number of tribunal claims and to save time once a case reaches a hearing, several changes are being introduced for new claims filed on/after 6 April 2012. Further and more fundamental changes such as introducing claimant fees for filing tribunal claims are planned and we will be reporting on these as they happen.
Deposit orders– the maximum deposit a tribunal will be able to order a party to pay if their claim has little reasonable prospect of success will increase from £500 to £1,000.
Costs awards – the maximum costs an employment tribunal can award against either party (without referring the case to the county court for detailed assessment) will increase from £10,000 to £20,000. However as tribunals still rarely award costs this is rather a pyrrhic victory for employers.
Witness statements - Where witness statements are used, they will stand as evidence in chief and be taken 'as read' at the hearing, unless a judge or tribunal directs otherwise. Reading witness statements can take up hours at tribunal and so this will be a genuine costs savings measure.
Witness expenses - State funded witness expenses are to be withdrawn. Tribunals will have the power to direct parties to bear the expenses of any witness.
Judges to sit alone on unfair dismissal cases - Unfair dismissal cases will be heard by a judge sitting alone without lay members, unless the judge orders otherwise. The government will review this change after a year. This will hopefully address the backlog in tribunal hearings although lay members can have a valuable role in tribunal decision making.
Statutory payment rates
Statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay and statutory adoption pay increased on 1 April 2012 from £128.73 to £135.45 per week and the weekly earnings threshold rose from £102 to £107.
Statutory sick pay increased on 6 April 2012 from £81.60 to £85.85 per week, while the weekly earnings threshold rose from £102 to £107.