Government confirms move away from current employment law commencement dates

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has confirmed that some of the provisions of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will be introduced outside the common April and October commencement dates.

A BIS spokesperson told Personnel Today that the settlement agreement admissibility provisions in the Bill may be bought forward and introduced outside the common commencement dates “where there is a business benefit for doing so”. This could also be the case with the proposed reduction in the unfair dismissal compensatory award that has already been announced, as well as other employment law changes.

In the case of the settlement agreement provisions, BIS said that it was keen to introduce them outside the common commencement dates because “we want to make settlement agreements available as soon as they are ready”.

Until this confirmation from BIS, for several years changes to employment law have been introduced on the same two dates every year. These dates, 6 April and 1 October, benefit employers by enabling them to be aware of forthcoming changes and to plan accordingly.

The decision to introduce some changes outside the common commencement dates has been greeted cautiously by commentators.

Max Winthorp, head of employment at SRF Legal and XpertHR employment law manual updating author, said: “The common commencement date seems to have served us well in the past – it is a sensible and consistent approach in an area where both industry and employees and their respective advisers have had to cope with constant legislative change.

“Without a common date – or the discipline of using a common date imposed on the legislature – we will lose the simple practicality of being able to deal with change on a bi-annual basis. It is often said, at the risk of using a cliché, that employment is a dynamic relationship. In dealing with such matters as performance reviews or salary increases employers have to consider cost. With common commencement dates it is much easier to make an intelligent forecast of the cost impact of legislative change.

“If we have piecemeal implementation – a tweak to the Working Time Regulations one month, a change to TUPE Regulations the next – this advantage will be lost.”

He added: “While it might be argued that the impact of case law is not confined to any given month, I don’t think it follows that a legislative free for all is accordingly justified – quite the reverse. If it is possible to introduce a degree of certainty surrounding future change, that should take priority.”

This view was echoed by Rebecca Johns, associate at law firm Fasken Martineau and XpertHR employment law manual updating author: “With the Government’s drive for swift employment reforms, a change to the commencement dates will make it difficult for employers to keep on top of when the various changes come in.

“There is therefore a risk that employers will fall behind the times and fail to introduce the changes when they come in. Employers will need to be increasingly vigilant as to the changes coming in and make sure their policies and procedures are compliant.”

XpertHR has further details on the Government’s plans on matters including settlement agreements, compensation limits, mediation and early conciliation and employment tribunal fees.

XpertHR also has a summary of the key employment law changes due to come into force this year.

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