When employees are dismissed by their employer whether they are fairly or unfairly dismissed there are a number of problems that they encounter. They face the obvious issues such as loss of income, inability to pay their bills such as mortgage and daily living expenses. They need to find new employment potentially without a favourable reference from their previous employer. To increase the burden on employees the Government believes the way forward is to increase the qualifying period for claims of unfair dismissal from one year to two years and to allow Judges to sit alone on cases of unfair dismissal.
Under the current system employees can have a level of confidence that after one years service that as long as they comply with the employment contract then their income will be maintained (although there are exceptions). Under the new rules, employees will be living with the pressure that for two years there will be no certainty with regards to their income. This may inadvertently add more pressure to the current economic crisis as it is likely to impact public spending. Whilst the Government suggest that the increase in the qualifying period will ‘have a positive impact on marginal hiring decisions, particularly in smaller firms’ they fail to highlight how many jobs they believe this will generate. However, applying the Governments logic, employees really don’t need to have any concerns. Should they be unfairly dismissed 23 months after commencing employment there will be other job vacancies just waiting for them and they will not become a burden on the state.
Also under the current system if an employee does take a case to the Employment Tribunal it is a panel that makes the decision and that panel includes lay members who usually consist of someone with experience of disputes from an employer perspective and someone from a Trade Union background who provides a view from an employees perspective. This is akin to the Criminal Courts structure, as the Magistrates are lay people guided by a Court Clerk who is legally trained, and the Crown Court relies upon the jury who are lay people directed by the Judge. This will remove a tradition that has been in place since the inception of Tribunals in 1964, which were originally called Industrial Tribunals.
The Government is aware that there is pending academic research on this matter but they are choosing to press ahead with the changes rather than waiting for the analysis of the research. They claim that the logic behind this decision is to reduce costs. Whilst it will clearly reduce costs, what will be the overall cost to employees?
The current structure has a degree of balance and it has similarities to other English and Welsh courts. Removing the panel from Unfair Cases will merely remove the balance and a structure that has given the Employment Tribunals credence over the years.
I would be interested in people’s view’s, do you believe this is a positive move by the Government allowing unfair dismissal cases to be heard by an Employment Judge only?
Also, do you think the Government will be successful in achieving the increase in job vacancies as a direct result of increasing the qualifying period from 1 year to 2 years, or will this merely result in the jobs that are vacated being re-advertised?