Employment lawyers slam ‘out-of-the-blue’ reform plans
A group representing 6,000 employment lawyers has savaged government plans to cut red tape for businesses, claiming that they will prolong rather than settle disputes and stretch resources ‘beyond breaking point’.
The Employment Lawyers Association (ELA) says that the proposals, in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, have not been fully thought through and, far from simplifying employment law, will confuse employers and employees alike. The Law Society’s Employment Law Committee has also criticised the government’s plans for adding ‘complexity’ to disputes.
The ELA is particularly concerned by plans to cap the compensatory award for unfair dismissal, which it says came ‘out of the blue’. In its response to a Department for Business Innovations and Skills call for evidence on the bill, which closed last week, the ELA said: ‘ELA foresees confusion, greater cause for argument and the potential that claimants pursue discrimination or whistleblowing claims, where no cap applies, instead of unfair dismissal claims.’ It added: ‘The current cap is rarely reached, so why make changes?’
The ELA is also concerned that the bill does not clearly define the type of ‘aggravating factor’ that will allow employment tribunals to impose financial penalties on employers. The ELA said: ‘By introducing yet another factor into a settlement negotiation, disputes would drag on rather than settle, the reverse of what the government is trying to achieve in its draft bill.’
Plans to compel parties in an employment dispute to seek pre-claim conciliation by ACAS is ‘likely to stretch [ACAS’s] resources beyond breaking point and result in the scheme becoming less workable’, the ELA said.
The Law Society committee echoed the ELA’s concerns, in particular calling for ACAS to be ‘adequately resourced and its role clearly defined’ and repeating its opposition to placing a cap on compensatory awards for unfair dismissal.
Commenting on plans in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to allow ‘legal officers’ to determine some types of employment tribunal claims, the Law Society committee said that more work must be done to decide the fees payable and the level of qualification required.