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Unfair Dismissal Proposals ‘Will Not Have Desired Effect’

Employment Law Specialist Considers Government's New Plans


The Government’s plan to increase the unfair dismissal qualifying period to two years may not have the desired effect of supporting business and reducing the strain on the current tribunal system, an employment law expert at Irwin Mitchell has warned.

George Osborne has confirmed at the Conservative conference in Manchester that the Government is to change regulations so that, from April 1st 2012, an employee will not be able to bring a claim against their employer in relation to unfair dismissal until they have been employed for two years.

The current qualifying period stands at a year, but the move is being put forward with a view to both reducing the number of employment tribunal claims – therefore cutting the pressure on the current system – and stimulating recruitment.

Mr Osborne also suggested that the change will save British businesses around £6 million a year and added that it will be supported by the launch of fees which will be payable by anyone wishing to bring an employment tribunal claim.

Expected to be phased in from April 2013, a structured system of fees is being designed to try to combat the increasing number of so-called ‘spurious’ claims being made by employees against employers.

According to Glenn Hayes, a Partner and employment law specialist at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, the introduction of the fees system is much more likely to have an impact on cutting claims than the changes to the qualifying period for unfair dismissal.

He explained: “The introduction of fees will undoubtedly reduce the number of claims, but whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen. For instance, there is a concern that claimants with strong cases may not get their voices heard if the fee is set too high.

“There may be other ways of dealing with unmeritorious claims, such as having compulsory mediation, then charging a more significant fee to those who refuse to engage with it and wish to use the tribunal unnecessarily.

“But in terms of the unfair dismissal changes, employees will still be able to take action irrespective of their length of service if they suffer unlawful discrimination, or have been treated badly or even dismissed because of them having “blown the whistle” at work, which could mean that we see a growing number of claims formulated in that way to get around the two-year rule.”

Glenn went on to outline that discrimination and whistle blowing claims can be both more expensive in terms of awards and legal costs, while they can also be time-consuming.

“It is therefore feared that the time – and cost – commitment for the tribunals could be the same or worse given the complexity of these types of claims,” he outlined.

“Whilst it is hoped that Mr Osborne`s statement will stimulate recruitment and ease the strain on the tribunal system, it remains to be seen if this will happen until tribunals become more stringent in terms of dismissing claims which appear to have no reasonable prospects of success and are formulated as discrimination claims simply to get around the qualifying service requirements.”