Employers face 'simpler' workplace dispute rules

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09 April 2009

Employers face new work-place dispute rules that lawyers say are simpler to follow than the existing regime.

The overhaul, which takes effect on April 6, sees the current process replaced by a set of principles that are designed to ensure both sides in any dispute are treated fairly.

Employers no longer face the prospect of automatically losing a tribunal claim if they fail to follow the principles, contained in a code drawn up by Acas, the dispute resolution agency.

Tribunals may overlook "minor failures" in the process of disciplining a member of staff or in trying to resolve a dispute as long as behaviour overall is "fail", lawyers said.

But tribunals will take the code into account and may decide to increase compensation claims by up to 25 pc if employers have not complied.

Employees with successful claims could see their compensation reduced by 25 pc if they have not followed the code, which does not apply to redundancies.

Adrian Martin, employment partner at solicitors Burges Salmon, said: "What we have now is basically more flexibility and a principles based approach.

"Under the current regime, if you did not comply with procedure, the dismissal is automatically unfair.  We are simply arguing about how much compensation they will get."

He added: "As redundancy dismissals are excluded, it should make life a bit easier for employers, because they will not have to know the code inside out."

Mr Nelson advised employers to continue to follow the basic structure of the existing regime.  In the case of a disciplining case, this would involve:

1. Investigating the incident
2. Informing the employee of the problem in writing
3. Holding a meeting with the employee to discuss it
4. Deciding on a course of action
5. Giving the employee a right of appeal

Employees no longer have to write to their employer to notify them of a grievance before making a claim, which solicitors said would mean an increase in "surprise" claims for employees.

But Mr Martin said the code stated that employees should write to the employers about their concerns and attend a meeting if one is called.  Failing to do so could affect the amount of compensation awarded if successful.

"The teeth of the code is the increase or decrease in the compensation," he said.

Plans to require employers and employees to consider mediation have been dropped.

Mr Martin said: "They would like to see people using mediation more to settle disputes before they go to tribunal but they have not gone as far as saying if you don't mediate there will be a penalty."

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