Employers in the dark on new dispute regulations

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Awareness of the new law on employment disputes, which comes into force this week, is worryingly low according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations 2004 comes into effect on 1 October 2004 and will introduce a new three-step procedure which will have to be followed in the event of a dismissal, disciplinary action or grievance in the workplace.

But the FSB said that a lack of awareness about the regulations meant that many of the UK's 1.2 million employers were unaware of its implications.

The procedures mean that employers will be prevented from speaking to someone as a first step and instead will have to “put the reasons for the disciplinary action or dismissal in writing, in broad terms to the employee” and arrange a “face-to-face meeting.” As a result the procedure will be formalised at a much earlier stage risking early conflict.

Employment Lawyer Murray Fairclough said: “The rules represent the most significant piece of employment legislation in the last decade, affecting the way in which almost all employee dismissals and grievances are handled in the workplace.

“Unwary employers could easily find themselves falling foul of the rules. They don’t just apply to conduct and capability dismissals but also to redundancies, long-term incapacity dismissals, expiry of fixed term contracts and retirements. In addition they apply from day one and so still need to be followed when dismissing an unsuitable probationer.

“If the employer fails to follow the procedure, the dismissal becomes automatically unfair, and any additional compensation can be increased by up to 50%.”

* The new three-step procedure can be summarised as: step one - put it in writing; step two - meet and discuss; step three - appeal. For more information see the DTI website.


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30th Sep 2004 10:44

I believe that human relations in the work-place are crucial but does anyone else feel that these types of regulations simply drive a wedge between human courtesy and warmth and the bleakly stark and mechanical? I would much rather sit down with a fellow human being and discuss any issues rather than receive a letter. Am I being over sensitive?

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30th Sep 2004 12:02

I am more confused than ever! I understood that the new legislation regarding dismissals was not contractual. Therefore companies will not have to follow these rules for any employee for less than one years service, unless stated otherwise in their contract.

Obviously its better if they do - best practice - but the comment in the original piece that companies will have to follow legislation to dismiss a probationer - is that entirely correct?

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30th Sep 2004 13:04

The ACAS helpline suggest that as best practice and to protect the employer no member of staff, irrespective of length of service, should be dismissed without using the 3 stage process.

I believe that the 3 stage process is an implied right and therefore an employee would be bringing a claim for infringement of statutory rights rather than unfair dissmissal, if they were dismissed without the 3 stage process being used.

That being said, the 3 stage process doesn't protect an employer if the reason for dismissal was unfair. It merely ensures they follow the right process.

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5th Oct 2004 13:06

I am somewhat confused by this claim that the new "procedures mean that employers will be prevented from speaking to someone as a first step ". The guidance provided by ACAS specifically states "Have an informal discussion of the problem with them".

Perhaps some of those making the claim could enlighten me?

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