Dispute proposals spell trouble for employers

In a bid to stem the rising tide of costly employment tribunals, the
Government has just issued new proposals to introduce mandatory dispute
resolution procedures by autumn next year.

They are designed to get employers and staff settling disputes internally
before a grievance escalates and lands in court. If an organisation dismisses
an employee without following the new process, it will face an unfair dismissal
ruling.

In theory, these plans are sensible because the money businesses will save
by driving down the number of tribunals should outweigh the cost of
implementing new legislation. But the procedures the Government proposes
organisations should follow are so overly complex and pitted with exemptions
that in their current form, they spell trouble.

There are too many grey areas open to interpretation. For example, where a
party has been harassed – defined as "creating an intimidating, hostile,
degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, for instance where there is
harassment related to gender, race or disability" – the Government
proposes that the new statutory procedures would not apply. Yet in the next
sentence it says "one party’s stress or anxiety will not usually be
sufficient in itself for an exemption to the procedures to apply".

So, if in dispute with an employee who argued that their stress was caused
by working in an intimidating environment, would an employer be obliged under
the proposed legislation to follow new dispute resolution procedures or not?

These proposals could cause more, not fewer, tribunals. And those cases
could become lengthier as interpretations of who did not do what and when are
thrashed out in court.

It is vital that the HR community, which is going to have to pick up many
loose threads, understands these proposals and voices its concerns through the
proper channels before the consultation period ends this October.

Go to www.dti.gov.uk/er/individual/Drcondoc.pdf
 for the draft regulations to add your
comments.

Penny Wilson is deputy editor of Personnel Today

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