ACAS Early Conciliation Scheme
This new scheme will be introduced from 6th April 2014, although will not be mandatory until 6th May 2014. This new scheme will require any claimant wishing to bring a claim to an employment tribunal to have first contacted ACAS. Pre-claim early conciliation (EC) will last for one month and the period can be extended by two weeks if settlement is close. The only obligation on the part of the claimant is to contact ACAS. The ACAS officer will contact the claimant and respondent asking both if they wish to enter into early conciliation. If conciliation is refused by either party, or is unsuccessful, ACAS will issue the claimant with a certificate and reference number which allows them to go ahead and present their claim to the employment tribunal. If the parties enter into early conciliation, this will ‘stop the clock’ on the claimant’s limitation period to present the claim to the employment tribunal and also the claimant will be given a further month from receiving the EC Certificate to lodge their claim.
From April 6th, discrimination questionnaires will be abolished. The formal questionnaire procedure and 8-week time limit will be replaced with an informal ‘question-style’ approach and accompanying ACAS guidance. The ‘questioner’ (the employee, for example) will put a particular concern or issue to the ‘responder’ (the employer) and explain why they feel this is discriminatory conduct based on their ‘protected characteristic’. They can then ask questions about the concern or issue or ask for information about the responder more generally. The questioner can give the responder a time period to respond. The responder should then respond setting out their answers to the questions. Whilst the new process means that employers will not have to slavishly plough through a questionnaire, this new process should still be taken seriously and employers should not ignore questions. Although the process by which an employment tribunal could draw an adverse inference of discrimination where a questionnaire was incomplete or went unanswered, an employment tribunal is still able to take into account an employer’s failure to respond under this informal procedure and make assumptions as to the employer’s behaviour overall.
“Loser’s Tax” – Financial Penalties for Employers
Losing respondents in claims issued on/after 6th April, will be subject to a new financial penalty. A losing respondent could be ordered to pay between £100 and £5,000 as a penalty for the way it has conducted itself in the litigation and whether there are any aggravating factors. This penalty may be applied in any case. The penalty will be reduced by 50 per cent if it is paid within 21 days. However, the amount of financial penalty will be at the tribunal’s discretion; it will not be automatic. The penalty payment is paid to the tribunal (and ultimately the Treasury) rather than to the claimant
Increase in Compensation Awards
For dismissals on/after 6th April 2014 (rather than 1st February), the new maximum compensation figures will be as follows:
- Maximum compensation for unfair dismissal increases from £74,200 to £76,574 (subject to an overall cap of 12 months’ pay, whichever is the lowest figure);
- A week’s pay increases from £450 to £464.
There will also be a reclassification of some types of employment tribunal claims for fee purposes. From 6th April claims relating to equal pay, sex equality in pension schemes, failure to inform and consult under TUPE and complaints about time off to train, will now be classified as Type ‘B’ claims thereby attracting the higher fees of £250 to issue and a £950 hearing fee.
Statutory Rates of Pay
Statutory rates of pay in respect of maternity, paternity and adoption leave increase from 6th April from £136.78 to £138.18 per week. HR should review those currently on statutory leave and adjust any payments due accordingly.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
The rate of SSP increases from £86.70 per week to £87.55 from 6th April. Any payments of statutory sick pay should be adjusted through payroll.
There are also other changes to SSP as follows:-
- Abolition of the Percentage Threshold Scheme. The Percentage Threshold Scheme enables employers to reclaim SSP from HMRC, where the total SSP paid in a month exceeds 13% of their Class 1 National Insurance contributions for that month. A draft Order abolishing the scheme, as part of the government's review of health at work, was laid before Parliament and approved by the House of Lords on 12 February 2014. It is expected to take effect on 6 April 2014.
- Abolition of SSP record-keeping obligations. The Statutory Sick Pay (Maintenance of Records) (Revocation) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/55) will abolish the obligation on employers to keep specified records of dates of sickness and SSP payments. Employers may keep records in a way that best suits their business needs – although records still have to be kept.
For details of these changes or for information about how these changes could affect your business, please contact our Employment Law Team on 0118 952 7284 or through our website www.boyesturner.com
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.