Last week, some important changes came into force regarding Statutory Payment Rates, Unfair Dismissal Qualifying Period, Tribunal Procedure, and Compromise Agreements.
The following changes to Employment Law Legislation came into force last week:
New Statutory Payment Rates
The rate of statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay increased from £128.73 per week to £135.45 per week with effect from 1 April 2012.
The rate of statutory sick pay increased from £81.60 per week to £85.85 per week with effect from 6 April 2012.
The lower earnings limit for national insurance contributions increased from £102 per week to £107 per week with effect from 6 April 2012.
Changes to Unfair Dismissal Qualifying Period
As previously trailed the current one year qualifying period for the right to claim unfair dismissal was increased to two years for employees who commence employment on or after 6 April 2012. On a similar note, the current one year qualifying period for the right to request and receive a written statement of reasons for dismissal has also increased to two years.
Please note that employees who started a job before 6 April 2012 will still accrue both of the above rights once they have one year’s continuous employment, even if they do not accrue one year’s continuous employment until after 6 April 2012.
Tribunal Procedure Changes
There are a number of changes to Employment Tribunal procedure which take effect from 6 April 2012.
Currently, unfair dismissal claims are heard by an Employment Judge and two lay members. From now on, an Employment Judge will be able to hear an unfair dismissal claim sitting alone. Lay members will still be mandatory in discrimination claims.
In hearings where witness statements are used, these will now be taken ‘as read’ at the hearing, meaning that the witness will not give their evidence in chief orally.
For all claims presented on or after 6 April 2012, state-funded witness expenses will be withdrawn. As a result, Employment Tribunals will now have the power to direct that the parties to a case should be responsible for paying witnesses’ expenses.
A Claimant can currently be required to pay a deposit of £500 if their claim is determined at a Pre-Hearing Review to have little reasonable prospect of success. In claims presented on or after 6 April 2012, the maximum deposit order that can be made will increase to £1000.
Finally, the maximum fixed sum that can be awarded to a party in costs will double from £10,000 to £20,000. As previously, a party can be awarded a higher sum in costs, subject to assessment of the costs by a court.
Compromise Agreements - Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Order 2012
As currently drafted, the Equality Act 2010 arguably prevents a solicitor advising an employee on a dispute with their employer from being an ‘independent adviser’ to that employee under any compromise agreement settling a discrimination claim.
An amendment has now been made to the Act resolving that anomaly which take effect from 6 April 2012.