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April showers us with (even more) changes

There was a big change in April. Employees must now notify Acas (by telephone, or by filling in a form which can be posted or submitted online) before they are allowed to bring an employment tribunal claim. This was optional from 6th April, and became compulsory on 6th May.

If the employee doesn’t tell Acas before lodging a tribunal claim, the claim will automatically be rejected by the employment tribunal. If the employee does tell Acas that they intend to bring a claim, Acas will try to help both sides settle. Either side can refuse to negotiate, in which case the employee can go to the tribunal. Conciliation can last for up to six weeks, if everyone agrees a settlement is feasible, and the employee then gets at least a month from conciliation failing to bring a tribunal claim (the time limit rules are complex, but it’s always at least a month after the Acas conciliation ends).

Is this a good idea? We think it’s a really good idea in principle; it means employers won’t find a tribunal claim form landing on their doorstep unexpectedly. However, we’re not sure it will work with anything but the simplest, lowest-value cases – mainly because most employers will want to wait and see whether the employee will pay the £250 fee to start their tribunal claim. According to statistics last month, two-thirds of employees don’t.

From 6th April there were also some new processes, penalties and pay to get to grips with. Here’s a summary:

Tribunal fines

Employers who breach workers’ rights face a fine of between £100 and £5,000 where the case involves ‘aggravating features’ (eg a flagrant unfair dismissal). The penalty will be calculated as 50% of any financial award made to the Claimant by the tribunal, subject to the £5,000 maximum. The silver lining? The fine will be reduced by 50% if it’s paid within 21 days.

 Increase in compensation limits

New compensation limits apply to dismissals that took effect on or after 6th April. The maximum for a week’s pay (for calculating redundancy payments and the unfair dismissal basic award) rises to £464. The compensatory award cap for unfair dismissal increases to £76,574.

 No more discrimination questionnaires

Statutory discrimination questionnaires are being abolished as part of the government’s cutback on employment law red tape. These were a way of aggrieved employees who alleged discrimination gleaning information from their employers in support of a claim. Employers who didn’t comply faced the possibility of an adverse inference being drawn at a subsequent hearing.

 So, employees who allege that discrimination took place on or after 6th April will not have this questionnaire procedure in their armoury. But that doesn’t stop them asking questions of their employer in the normal course of their claim, and employers should in most cases comply. Acas has issued some useful guidance on this.


 New rates of pay

From 6th April some important statutory pay increases took effect:

         Maternity, paternity (ordinary and additional) and adoption pay increases to £138.18.

          Statutory sick pay is £87.55.