Significant employment law changes introduced on 6 April 2012

5 April 2012

Each year, April is always a time for change in employment law, and this year the changes are particularly significant. Tomorrow, 6 April, sees some significant procedural changes and amendments in the employment tribunals and also changes to unfair dismissal law and a much needed clarification to the Equality Act.

There has been some confusion over which changes will come into force this year and which will come into force in subsequent years. To clarify, the changes which will come into force on 6 April 2012 (and therefore those which will apply to cases submitted to an Employment Tribunal on or after 6 April 2012) include the following:

  • Maximum deposit increases from £500 to £1,000: a tribunal may order a party to pay a deposit where that party intends to continue the proceedings to tribunal but the tribunal  determines that the contentions put forward by that party have little reasonable prospect of success;
  • Witness statements to be taken ‘as read’ unless the tribunal directs otherwise.  This means that, in most cases, a tribunal witness will not have to read out his or her witness statement to the tribunal before being cross-examined on it;
  • Witness expenses to be borne by the parties: employment judges will be able to order that a party to the litigation reimburses a witness in respect of the costs/expenses of their attending a tribunal hearing, and the losing party may be ordered to reimburse the winning party for any such costs that have been paid out.  Witnesses will, however, no longer be able to claim expenses from Government funds;
  • The Maximum costs order that a tribunal can make without having to refer for assessment to the County Court increases from £10,000 to £20,000;
  • Employment judges will normally sit alone when hearing unfair dismissal claims; 
  • Section 147 of the Equality Act 2010 will be amended the wording of this section has caused some confusion and debate and will be amended on 6 April 2012 to make it clear that a representative instructed by the Employee can be an "independent adviser" for the purpose of a compromise agreement and is not precluded from advising on the effect of the compromise agreement or from signing it off; and
  • The qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims for employees, who start their job on or after 6 April 2012, is to be increased to 2 years (in most circumstances).

In one much publicised area, though, there is no change quite yet.  The Government consultation on tribunal fees resulted in two options being put forward, although neither has been implemented yet.  Option 1 proposes that an issue fee and a hearing fee should be introduced.  This option might be implemented in 2013.  Option 2 proposes that only an issue fee be introduced and that the level of this fee is based on what the Claimant states their claim to be worth. Current thinking is that it would take until 2014 for option 2 to be implemented in full. 

For further information, see the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 and the draft Employment Tribunals Act 1996 (Tribunal Composition) Order 2012 that implement the above changes (click on the links to download).

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