Of all the legislation changes, scrapping the three-step dispute resolution procedures has been most welcomed by HR. A new Acas discipline and grievance code of practice has replaced the statutory measures, putting a greater importance on attempting to resolve disputes before they reach court.
Keith Mizon, director of individual dispute resolution at conciliation service Acas, told Personnel Today: “It’s a more common sense and flexible way of resolving disputes in the workplace before they escalate, with a view to getting them resolved without the need for any kind of judicial determination.”
Rachael Henderson, HR director at Norland Managed Services, hopes this will allow practitioners greater freedom to work with line managers and employees than under the old system. “It was painful trying to describe to a manager that by not putting the words ‘and you have the right to appeal’ at the end of the letter you could lose a tribunal, even for something as obvious as fraud,” she said.
“It gives HR a chance to get out of the compliance mindset and into a more positive one, where they are supporting a more positive culture and better relationships,” added Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. He also praised the introduction of a new Acas helpline to assist staff and employers in resolving disputes.
However, Dawn Turner, regional director of HR at Hyatt UK hotels, is concerned employees are no longer obliged to raise grievances before issuing a claim. “That rings an alarm bell. I’m not sure if it will open the floodgate for claims but that’s the concern,” she said.
Henderson, meanwhile, believes mediation should be compulsory, whether in-house or through a third party such as Acas. “Unless it’s mandatory I don’t think people will use it. Employers will find it cumbersome and not timely enough, while employees want to see these issues resolved. There are plenty of no-win, no-fee solicitors out there willing to take on their cases,” she said.
According to Michael Bradshaw, a partner at law firm Charles Russell, while failure to comply is not as costly as it was under the former regime, an “unreasonable failure” to follow the code could result in payouts rising by 25%. He also warned HR to pay attention to complex transition rules out of the old arrangements, as the new code will not come into effect immediately in all cases (see box).
But Keith Luxon, group HR director at water management firm Veolia Water, believes the new rules will make little difference to most employers. “The relaxation shouldn’t affect good practice too much. Both the old and new codes are designed to try to encapsulate what fair and reasonable employers would do anyway. Poor employers tend to ignore the codes and hope to get away with it,” he said.
The repeal of the dispute resolution procedures has also meant amending the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE), which will also be governed by the new Acas code of practice, and will place a greater obligation on transferors to disclose information about a broader range of grievance procedures to transferees.
According to Bradshaw: “Statutory dismissal rules applied to dismissals and actions short of dismissals. “The idea of actions short of dismissals was really narrowly defined, so it wasn’t really of much relevance to many people. The new code applies to all disciplinary matters and goes down to warnings as well as potential dismissal.”
But this is only likely to be an issue for HR in employee transferals where no commercial terms are entered into.
Where these do exist they tend to provide far more detailed information than that required by TUPE anyway, Bradshaw concluded.
At-a-glance: what’s changed?
1 April: Minimum statutory holiday entitlement increased from 24 to 28 days for full-time staff and pro-rata for part-time staff. This is the final step in the government’s pledge to recognise the eight bank and public holidays as additional days off to the standard 20 days’ leave.
6 April: The right to request fl exible working extended from carers of adults or parents of a child under six or a disabled child under 18 to parents of children up to the age of 16. Employers have a duty to consider such requests and can only reject them on business grounds.
6 April: The weekly rate for statutory sick pay increased from £75.40 to £79.15, and the weekly payment for those on maternity, paternity or adoption leave from £117.18 to £123.06. Employees who take additional maternity leave beyond six months are now entitled to the same non-monetary contractual benefits as those on ordinary leave.
6 April: The three-step statutory dispute resolution procedure has been scrapped to allow more fl exibility for employers and conciliation service Acas to intervene in disputes. The old system was criticised for being too geared towards resolving workplace disputes in court, rather than early on in the workplace.
6 April: The revised statutory Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures has been introduced. Where there is a breach of the code, a tribunal can increase or decrease any award made by up to 25%.
6 April: The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 came into force. The transferor is required to provide information in circumstances where the new Acas code applies, rather than where the statutory dispute resolution procedures apply.