The UK government’s changes to the qualifying period for protection from unfair dismissal from one year to two years is due to come into effect from Good Friday onwards.
Since May 2010, The Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has been leading a review of employment laws, so fulfilling one of the government's stated aims of the Coalition Agreement.
Many aspects were clearly on the government's radar from the outset, including work and families, retirement age and equality. Another key target was the employment tribunal system, as a result of which the government has consulted on employment tribunal reform.
One aspect of that reform is that, for those recruited on/after 6 April, the qualifying period for unfair dismissal increases to two years. Those who are already in employment before that date will retain the current one-year qualifying period. The same qualifying period will apply to the right to ask for written reasons.
Currently employees only need one year's service to bring an unfair dismissal claim, and this doubling of the qualifying period brings it in to line with the service requirement for a claim for redundancy pay. It is worth noting, however, that this change will not have any immediate impact, as it applies only to those recruited on or after 6 April.
Consequently, the first impact will be felt from 5 April 2013 when such employees would have qualified to bring their claims under the old regime.
The increase in the period of service required for employees to be able to bring a claim has received strong support from many employers, as it is tangible evidence of the Government's stated aim of reducing employment red tape.
An employers' poll conducted by international law firm Eversheds revealed that employers were doubtful as to whether an increase of the qualifying period would meet the stated aim of giving businesses more confidence to recruit. But the proposal did find favour for other reasons, for example, in our survey of more than 600 employers 78% believed that raising the qualifying period would result in a drop in tribunal claims. Even so, concerns remain that increasing the period may encourage new litigation. For example, employees may seek to circumvent the period by submitting tribunal complaints on other grounds, for example, whistle-blowing and discrimination, for which the qualifying period does not apply.
Simon Tytherleigh (pictured), partner at international law firm Eversheds
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