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25 March 2014

April changes to employment law

Next month sees a number of important changes to employment law taking effect.

From 6 April 2014 there are some important changes for employers to be aware of:

Compulsory pre-claim conciliation

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (ERRA) 2013 included provision for a new scheme of compulsory pre-claim conciliation via ACAS.

This scheme is in force with effect from 6 April 2014, although in fact will only be compulsory from 6 May 2014.

Under the new four-stage procedure, individuals who wish to pursue a claim against their employer must first lodge certain ‘prescribed information’ with ACAS, using a prescribed form.  The information is then supplied to a conciliation officer, who is required to make attempts with both parties to promote a settlement within the ‘prescribed period’ (one calendar month, subject to a two-week extension).  During this period, the time limit for pursuing the relevant tribunal claim is effectively suspended.

If settlement is not achieved, a certificate is issued by the conciliation officer to the individual, who must quote the certificate number on their tribunal application if they decide to pursue a claim.

Further information on how the scheme will work is available on the ACAS website.

Abolition of statutory discrimination questionnaires

The ERRA 2013 also included provision for the repeal of statutory discrimination questionnaires under the Equality Act 2010.  From 6 April 2014, employees will no longer be required to use the statutory discrimination questionnaires and employers will not be under an obligation to respond to discrimination questions within eight weeks.

However, this does not necessarily mean that employers can ignore future questions from employees in relation to a (potential or actual) discrimination claim.

ACAS has issued new guidance on asking and responding to questions about discrimination following the repeal of statutory questionnaires.

Financial penalties

Employment tribunals are granted a new power under the ERRA 2013 to impose financial penalties on employers who lose following an employment tribunal hearing.  This new power comes into force in respect of claims entered on or after 6 April 2014, and will apply to cases where the tribunal considers there to be “aggravating features”.  The minimum penalty is £100, maximum £5,000, with a reduction of 50% if it is paid within 21 days.

The penalty is payable to the Government’s consolidated fund, not to the individual claimant.

Increase to rates and limits

The rate of a ‘weeks pay’ (for calculating entitlement to statutory redundancy pay and the unfair dismissal basic award) will increase from £450 to £464, and the maximum unfair dismissal compensatory award will increase from £74,200 to £76,574, where the effective date of termination is on or after 6 April 2014.

Statutory sick pay will increase from £86.70 to £87.55 per week, and statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay will increase from £136.78 to £138.18 per week from 6 April 2014.

Statutory sick pay

Employers are currently required to keep specific records of dates of sickness and SSP payments for a period of at least three years from the end of the tax year to which they relate.  From 6 April 2014, this record keeping requirement will be abolished.

The current Percentage Threshold Scheme, which enables employers to recover SSP from HMRC if the amount of SSP exceeds 13% of their Class 1 National Insurance contributions, is also abolished with effect from 6 April 2014.