Countdown to April 2014

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April 2014 will see a raft of new employment legislation hitting the statute books – in preparation for the changes here is a quick overview of what’s in store:

  • Discrimination questionnaires are to be abolished. This is welcome news as the questionnaires are notoriously laborious, time-consuming and costly to complete.
  • Mandatory ACAS early conciliation (EC) will be introduced. All prospective claimants will have to submit an EC form via ACAS before being permitted to bring a tribunal claim. Perhaps surprisingly, there will be no obligation on either the prospective claimant or respondent to actively engage in EC which arguably renders it something of a ‘tick-box’ exercise. Many employers may well prefer to wait and see if proceedings are actually issued before entering into conciliation. This is especially so given that a claimant is required to pay a fee to commence a claim.
  • Changes to the existing limitation periods will apply to allow time for the EC process to be completed, which means that employers are at risk of a tribunal claim from an ex-employee for a longer period of time than has previously been the case.
  • Financial penalties for losing employers at employment tribunals will take effect in relation to all tribunal claims issued from April 2014. The ET will have the power to award a penalty of up to £5,000 against a losing employer where there have been ‘aggravating factors’.
  • The right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees with 26 weeks’ service (i.e. not just parents and carers), significantly widening the pool of people who can request changes. It will cover the growing numbers of older workers who wish to or need to work flexibly in order to care for grandchildren or, indeed, those who are just seeking a better work/life balance. The current statutory ‘right to request’ procedure will be replaced with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner and within a ‘reasonable’ period of time. A statutory code of practice and non-statutory guidance will be prepared to sit alongside these new rules and give guidance to employers.

Whether this change to the law will result in a ‘flurry’ of flexible working requests remains to be seen but it is likely that more requests will be made overall so employers should be prepared. We recommend that existing flexible working policies and procedures are updated and awareness training given in advance of the changes.