Double date for new laws leaves employers vulnerable

Whereas the previous five years had been spent battling a constant stream of arbitrarily implemented employment legislation, there were now two defined implementation dates to plan around – April 1 and October 1 – the aim being to facilitate a clearer, more efficient employment law framework for both employers and employees.

In the months leading up to each date, the DTI is expected to release further details, consultation documents and guidelines on the next tranche of legislation to be implemented. It will give employers and employees a clear timetable to work to in terms of understanding the legislation and in being prepared for its introduction on the designated date.

However, the reality of the new system has left many people wondering if it is an innovation too far.

For the most recent implementation date of October 1, when changes were introduced governing dispute resolution procedures and employment tribunal rules, full details of the changes were not available until just three weeks before the implementation date.

While the motives of the DTI in introducing the new timetable are clearly well intentioned, there is a risk that new regulations are being rushed through in order to meet the self-imposed deadlines.

From a business point of view, the new regime looks likely to mean more claims and, at least initially, more tribunal bureaucracy – exactly the opposite of what the Government intended.

Under the previous system, new legislation was thoroughly drafted and employer and employee bodies consulted before changes were implemented. Although the eventual date of introduction was somewhat arbitrary, it generally allowed enough time for parties to familiarise themselves with the changes.

But with only two implementation dates every year, the Government is now committed to making sure all its employment legislation keeps to this pre-defined timetable. In doing so, there is a danger that legislation is implemented without proper due diligence, consultation or information.

An immediate consequence could see employers facing more claims in the employment tribunal.  For example, the recent changes included new guidelines on disciplinary and grievance procedures to be incorporated into employees’ terms of employment.  However, given the lack of information disseminated before October 1, relatively few employers have been able to update all their employees’ terms of employment. It leaves them open to charges of failing to provide their staff with the correct written particulars.

The hope is that as the regulators and the regulated become more familiar with the new regime, the situation will improve. The principle of having two set implementation dates is certainly sound, with clear benefits for both the employer and the employee. But far from reducing uncertainty and bureaucracy, its practical implementation has so far had the opposite effect.

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