Government plans to introduce statutory workplace dispute resolution procedures have been condemned as far too complex and could lead to an increase in employment tribunals.
The proposals, announced by the new employment minister Gerry Sutcliffe, are supposed to reduce the number of employment tribunals by placing a duty on firms and workers to go through internal disciplinary procedures before considering a tribunal application.
However, employment experts have slammed the proposals released in a consultation document earlier this month because they include a raft of exemptions and conditions.
Parties are exempt from following the procedures if either party has been subject to harassment, for example, defined as the creation of a hostile, humiliating or offensive environment.
This could mean any workplace dispute involving bullying or any type of discrimination would be exempt from the legislation, which forms part of the Employment Act 2002.
Robin Bloom, partner at employment law firm Dickinson Dees, said the exemptions could create a new industry as lawyers target employers that have not followed procedure. “Tribunals are hung up on procedure. This will give [employees] more reasons to bring claims,” he said.
Head of legal affairs at the Engineering Employers’ Federation, Peter Schofield, agreed the proposed regulations must be made more practical. “We are concerned that disputes which go to tribunal will now be made more complex by the proposals as drafted,” he said. “Their outcome will be more likely to depend on legal technicalities rather than justice of the case.”
Keith Luxon, HR policy and reward manager at the Laurel Pub Company, said the proposals’ complexity would slow down dispute resolution. “We were hoping for a few simple steps that both sides could buy into.”
By Quentin Reade
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