Employment Law Roundup

Words by Samira Cakali Words by Samira Cakali

What’s on the agenda? Samira Cakali, specialist employment solicitor advocate at SCE Solicitors highlights forthcoming changes to employment law.

Mandatory ACAS Conciliation

Mandatory ACAS conciliation has been bandied about for the best part of a year, and it's finally coming into play on 6 April 2014. So will this new concept revolutionise the concept of early settlement?

This remains to be seen, however for the first time since the creation of Employment Tribunals (then called Industrial Tribunals) in 1964; all potential claimants will need to contact ACAS before submission of a claim. The idea is that ACAS will offer the opportunity for Early Conciliation (EC) and this will lead to resolution of the dispute saving parties time and cost.

There will be four steps to the procedure which will be administered through ACAS:

1. The potential claimant will be required to complete a simple form (the EC request form) which requires them to provide some very basic details such as their name and address including details of any potential respondent. It’s worthy of note that they are not required to provide details of any claim at that stage.

2. When ACAS receives the EC request form, the running of the limitation period will be suspended to allow conciliation to take place.

3. A conciliation officer will then try and promote a settlement agreement between the parties during a “prescribed period”, which the government has indicated will be for one month.

4. If the conciliating officer concludes that settlement is not possible during the prescribed period or that the said period expires without settlement being reached, the officer will issue a certificate to that effect. This certificate will then allow the claimant to bring a claim in the employment tribunal.

Should the potential claimant have a representative (legal or a trade union) on board then they will be able to instigate the above procedure on their behalf.

The new EC procedure could be likened to the statutory dispute resolution procedure pre-April 2009 with the material difference being that the former was dealt with internally.

Abolition of discrimination questionnaires

Currently employees or job applicants who feel that they have been discriminated against can serve the offending company a questionnaire requesting further information. The company is then under a statutory duty to respond within 8 weeks.

The current statutory questionnaire procedure will be abolished from 6 April 2014 and will be replaced with a new informal approach set out in the non-statutory ACAS guide.

Introduction of financial penalties

From 6 April 2014 the tribunals will be granted a discretionary power to impose financial penalties on employers who are unsuccessful at tribunal. The penalty may be ordered where an employer is found to have breached a claimant’s employment rights and the tribunal considers that, in the circumstances, the employer's behaviour in committing the breach had one or more 'aggravating factors'. 

Where compensation is awarded, the penalty must be set at 50% of that amount, subject to a minimum of £100 and a maximum of £5,000. Similar to traffic offence fines if the employer pays within 21 days, the sum will be reduced by 50%.

Extension of the right to flexible working

Currently only employees who have children under the age of 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) or who are carers have the right to request flexible working, this is set to change from 6 April 2014 where this right will be extended to all employees.

The existing 26-week qualifying period of continuous employment will be retained and employees will still only be allowed to make one request in any 12 month period.

The current statutory procedure will be replaced with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner. ACAS will produce a Code of Practice to help businesses manage the new extended rights.

Whew! And that's it so far!

Samira Cakali is a specialist employment solicitor advocate at SCE Solicitors.