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Employment Law 2014 - Changing Times

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We’re well into 2014 and the year brings with it some significant developments in employment law. In summary:

1. Flexible Working

From 06 April 2014, all employees will have the right to request flexible working. Previously this had been limited to parents and carers with particular criteria to be met. Provided employees have 26 weeks’ service, they will now be entitled to make a request. Employers will, similar to the old system, be under a duty to consider requests in a reasonable manner.

Those employers with flexible working policies will need to review and update their existing policies. Employers without flexible working policies should implement them and application of such policies should be conducted in a fair and efficient manner.

2. ACAS Conciliation

For Employment Tribunal claims lodged on or after 06 May 2014, employees will have to contact ACAS before submitting their claim. ACAS will then offer an Early Conciliation Service to seek to resolve the dispute between employer and employee without the need for Employment Tribunal proceedings.

Should conciliation fail, claimants can then proceed to lodge a claim. This is undoubtedly going to put pressure on the ability to meet strict time limits imposed in the Employment Tribunal and also on ACAS’ resources, given that a previously voluntary service is now to become compulsory. It is imperative that prior to entering into early conciliation both employers and employees obtain legal advice as to their positions and the value / prospects of proposed claims and responses.

3. Financial Penalties for Employers

From 06 April 2014, financial penalties can be awarded by employment tribunals against employers who lose in the Employment Tribunal. Through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (ERRA), the penalties will range from £100 - £5000 per claim and the payments will be made to the Government.

The ERRA does not specifically set out the types of factors that an Employment Tribunal should take into account when determining whether "aggravating features" are present.  This is left to the discretion of the Employment tribunal taking into account any factors which it considers relevant, including the circumstances of the case and the employer’s actions.

It’s likely that malicious or negligent behaviour by an employer which is consistent and repeated will be targeted. Employers should be mindful of such penalties, particularly in cases where discrimination or harassment for example is alleged over a prolonged period. The risk of a penalty is certainly a factor that employers will need to bear in mind when deciding whether to resist or settle Employment Tribunal claims.

4. Tribunal compensation limits

Tribunal compensation limits will increase on 06 April 2014. The maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal will rise from £74,200 to £76,574. The maximum amount of a week's pay, used to calculate redundancy payments or various awards including the basic or additional award of compensation for unfair dismissal, also rises from £450 to £464.

The future

There will be changes to employment law throughout 2014. Businesses will need to be alive to these changes and be proactive when it comes to both managing such issues internally and dealing with claims if and when they are brought.