It seems that most employment law legislation is designed to make life harder for the employer and easier for every member of staff. From maternity laws to unfair dismissal, most laws seem weighted against the employer.
That was certainly the case when the statutory grievance and disciplinary procedures came into force in 2004. They made it simple for an employee to make a claim for unfair dismissal. If an employer made even one mistake in following a grievance or disciplinary procedure, evidence of the mistake was enough to allow the employee to make a claim for unfair dismissal, even if the reasons for dismissal were genuine. This led to many claims for compensation being paid out when, had the correct procedure been followed, this might not have been the case. For small employers this burden and the costs of the compensation claims were often too much to bear.
Sense has now finally prevailed, after much stress caused to employers, solicitors and Employment Law Tribunals, and the Employment Act 2008 finally obtained Royal Assent recently. This will come into force on 6th April 2009 and will redress the balance in these situations so that all the weight does not fall onto the shoulders of the employer.
When the Employment Act 2008 comes into force the previous statutory grievance and disciplinary procedures will be repealed. The Employment Law Tribunal will now examine the facts of the case to see whether the employee followed the ACAS Code of Practice in a grievance or disciplinary procedure. Failure to follow the procedure now will not lead to an automatic unfair dismissal but to an increase in the amount of any compensation awarded of up to 25%. However, the employee will now be able to argue that even if they had followed the procedure, the employee would still have been dismissed. If they are successful, the amount of any award can be reduced by as much as 100%.
This will make a significant difference to employers and could save hundreds of thousands of pounds of compensation for employers that cannot afford it, especially when technically they have done nothing wrong.