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The Government has outlined plans to reduce the number of employment disputes going to an Employment Tribunal.

The proposals include plans to:

  • Introduce a 12 month pay cap on the compensatory award for unfair dismissal.
  • Make template letters available to encourage the use of the new settlement agreements, alongside a statutory code of practice which will include an explanation of improper behaviour.
  • Not set a guideline tariff for settlement agreements. Government will instead develop guidance outlining the issues that should be considered when deciding and negotiating the level of financial settlement.

In addition, the Government has recently launched three employment related consultations, on:

  • Proposals to implement the Acas Early Conciliation (EC) process.
  • Proposals to reform The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employments) (TUPE), the legislation which protects employee rights when the business they work for transfers to a new employer.
  • Reforming the regulatory framework for employment agencies and employment businesses.

Acas will be publishing a draft Statutory Code for public consultation shortly.

A recent report from the Ministry of Justice has revealed details on the level of employment tribunal activity during the 2011/12 financial year.

The data shows that:

  • There were 186,300 claims accepted by employment tribunals during 2011-12, a 15% fall on the number received in the previous year, and 21% lower than the number in 2009-10.
  • Employment tribunals disposed of 110,800 claims during 2011-12, a fall of 10% when compared with the previous year, but in-line with the number of claims disposed of in 2009-10. The recent fall in disposals was seen in both single and multiple claims, with decreases of 6% and 14% respectively.
  • A claim to an employment tribunal can contain a number of different types of complaint, known as jurisdictional complaints. When deciding any claim, the tribunal has to make determinations under each jurisdiction. The total number of jurisdictional complaints accepted in 2011-12 was 321,800, 16% fewer than in 2010-11. During the year there were, on average, 1.73 jurisdictional complaints per claim. The ratio has varied since 2006-7, but generally increased.
  • Of the 321,800 jurisdictional claims received in 2011-12, 31% were for Unfair dismissal, breach of contract and redundancy; 29% were concerning Working Time Regulations (largely airline cases that are resubmitted every three months), and 16% were for unauthorised deductions (Wages Act).
  • In 2011-12, employment tribunals disposed of 230,000 jurisdictional complaints, 6% fewer than in 2010-11. This fall was reflected in all jurisdictions except Disability Discrimination, Age Discrimination and Breach of Contract which had increases of 7%, 5% and 1% respectively.
  • At 31 March 2012, the workload outstanding for employment tribunals (i.e. claims awaiting resolution) was 540,800, as compared with 484,300 at 31st March 2011. The vast majority of those were multiple claims – 514,300 in all.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

New research from global insurer Zurich shows that over two thirds (70%) of British SME decision makers want the government to focus on cutting red tape. This ranks more highly than improving access to finance (54%) and reviewing employment legislation (36%) in the list of top three SME priorities.

This desire for cutting red tape rises to 76% amongst SMEs in the North of England and 74% in the Midlands. In London this figure is 60%, which while below average, still ranks as their top priority. Manufacturing SMEs put the greatest emphasis on the reduction of red tape (86%) with construction (75%) and financial services (67%) companies closely following.

When senior SME decision makers were asked to rank their top three regulatory challenges, employment regulations topped the list (37%), followed by health and safety (28%) and pensions (21%). The concern with employment regulations is also reiterated by the fact almost one in five (17%) small businesses view employment tribunals and legal proceedings as a top business threat.

The Supreme Court has given its ruling in the discrimination appeal case of Hewage v Grampian Health Board, which was on appeal from the Second Division of the Inner House of the Court of Session.

Mrs Hewage was born in Sri Lanka, and has been a British citizen since 1998. She commenced employment with Grampian Health Board (‘the Board’) in 1993 at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary as a consultant orthodontist. In 1996 she became Head of Service for the Orthodontic Department.

She resigned from her employment with the Board, and in September 2005 she commenced proceedings against the Board in which she claimed under section 94(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 that she had been unfairly dismissed from that employment. She also claimed under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976 that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her sex and race.

At a hearing before an employment tribunal, the Board conceded that Mrs Hewage had been constructively and unfairly dismissed. The tribunal held that she had been unlawfully discriminated against on a number of grounds of both sex and race.

In 2009 the Employment Appeal Tribunal (‘the EAT’) upheld an appeal by the Board and dismissed Mrs Hewage’s claims of discrimination. She appealed to the Inner House of the Court of Session, and the Second Division allowed her appeal and quashed the decision of the EAT. It remitted the case to the employment tribunal to decide whether, if it had had regard to the only issues which the court considered to be relevant to the claims of discrimination, it would have come to the same or a different conclusion. The Board appealed against that decision.

The Supreme Court has now unanimously dismissed the Board’s appeal, and affirmed that part of the Second Division’s interlocutor in which it allowed the appeal to the Inner House and quashed the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

A worker who whistle-blew on racism has won his discrimination claim against Royal Mail. Mr Abdul Musa settled for an undisclosed sum in compensation, after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) funded his case and represented him at the employment tribunal.

The tribunal in Manchester agreed that Mr Musa was victimised at work and unfairly dismissed by his employer because he had exposed the racist behaviour of his colleagues. It found that managers at the depot in Blackburn had known racism was an issue in the depot, but failed to act to protect Mr Musa.

According to the EHRC, an internal investigation upheld his complaints, after which Royal Mail sacked one worker and disciplined others. But the Employment Tribunal said the investigation was “shambolic”.

The Tribunal also said managers had failed to investigate Mr Musa’s complaints that union representatives were backing an unofficial campaign to have him sacked by fabricating and colluding in evidence.

The Tribunal concluded that Royal Mail saw Mr Musa as a problem and that his employer decided only his dismissal would resolve the negative reaction from other workers in the depot.

Mr Justice Underhill has published his findings from his review of the employment tribunal rules, which include a number of recommendations to the Government.

These recommendations include:

  • An early paper sift meaning weak cases submitted that should not proceed are managed more effectively.
  • Combining separate case management discussions and pre hearing reviews. This will ensure there is one consideration of the claim prior to a hearing, known as a preliminary hearing which may aid a quicker resolution for some disputes.
  • New ‘Presidential guidance’ will seek to give all parties in a dispute a much better idea of what to expect from the Tribunal process and equally, what is expected of them.
  •  A change to the withdrawals process meaning when one party ends the dispute at tribunal the other does not have to signal their intention to end the claim.

When presenting his review, Mr Justice Underhill underlined the fact that whilst the fundamentals of a fair procedure for employment tribunals had not changed, it was important that judges had the legal framework to manage cases robustly, and in the most sensible manner for all parties involved.

The review of employment tribunal rules is part of a comprehensive examination of employment law which is designed to improve the flexibility of the UK workforce, making a vital contribution to the Government’s growth strategy.

Employment tribunal changes have come into effect from Friday 6th April as part of the Government's employment law reform measures.

There were 218,000 tribunal claims in 2010-11, a rise of 44% since 2008-09, with each business spending nearly £4,000 per claim on average defending itself. There is an additional average cost of a £1,900 to the taxpayer per claim.

The changes mean that from 6th April:

  • The qualifying period for claiming unfair dismissal will rise from one to two years.
  • Judges will be able to sit alone in unfair dismissal cases.
  • Witness statements can be provided in writing as opposed to the current rules where a witness reads their own statement out aloud.
  • The maximum level for costs awarded to businesses winning a vexatious tribunal claim will rise from £10,000 to £20,000. Deposit orders required by claimants when a judge determines that a part of claim is unmerited will increase from £500 to £1,000.

The Government has also announced its intention to publish the average value of awards and time taken to reach a hearing. Included in the guidance for tribunal application and response forms, this information will provide all parties with a greater understanding about what to expect from the tribunal process before they enter the system.

Workplace relations body Acas has called for more employers to consider using mediation at work to help resolve disputes and avoid potentially costly and stressful employment tribunal claims. The call comes after a study carried out by Acas in 2011 found that just 5% of employers have used mediation to solve a workplace dispute.

The study also revealed that despite low take up by employers, 64% were aware of mediation, and around three quarters of businesses agreed that mediation is a good tool for resolving disputes at work, with half agreeing that mediation produces "win-win" solutions that leave both parties satisfied.

Andrew Wareing. Director of the Acas service responsible for resolving disputes between individuals and their employers, said:

"Workplace conflict can damage an organisation's effectiveness. Last week's announcement that the Government is funding a pilot scheme for two regional mediation networks will help raise awareness among employers about how mediation can help benefit their business.

“Mediation helps resolve disputes quickly and effectively, minimising distress and cost as well as preserving workplace relationships. Acas successfully resolved 90% of the mediation cases we were involved in over the last year alone."

The Government has announced the next steps in its comprehensive review of employment laws.

New plans to improve the way in which workplace disputes are resolved have been published alongside an “Employer’s Charter” – the measures are designed to give businesses more confidence to take on workers and support growth.

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