Time is running out for employers to ensure they will meet the requirements of the forthcoming Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations, and many existing consultative mechanisms will not pass muster unless changes are made.
From 6 April 2005, employers ignoring requests from at least 10% of their workforce to set up formal information and consultation processes will face fines of up to £75,000 and the imposition of a "straitjacket" government information and consultation model.
If such a request is made, employers will be obliged to inform and consult on areas such as employees' prospects for employment and any substantial changes to work organisation or contractual relations.
"Employers need to get their skates on," warns Raymond Jeffers, chairman of the Employment Lawyers Association and global head of employment at law firm Linklaters.
"It is a good idea to get something in place before April and those who want but do not yet have a pre-existing agreement are rapidly running out of time."
"Pre-existing agreements" have to be in place before any employee request is made, otherwise the governmentÕs onerous default model will apply.
"The government's solution combines all models and is a bit of strait-jacket for employers who might want different arrangements for different groups," Jeffers explains.
Richard Hume-Rothery, director of employee consultation specialist the European Study Group, says employers with pre-existing agreements need to make sure they:
include all of their employees in the arrangements
secure approval - as opposed to agreement, which implies a more formal approach - in writing.
"Many companies are not including directors and other senior people, or non-unionised parts of the workforce [in their pre-existing agreements]," he says.
Jeffers says the key questions for employers to ask when setting up a pre-existing agreement are:
Are you going to have the same information and consultation processes for all aspects of the workforce or a variety, with perhaps direct consultation for some?
How will staff representatives be elected and appointed?
What will re