Home Business News Kevin Poulter: Not such a happy new year as 2012 brings a raft of new employment legislation

Kevin Poulter: Not such a happy new year as 2012 brings a raft of new employment legislation

8th Jan 12 7:59 pm

Our legal columnist warns about the doom to come

As soon as Big Ben rings in the New Year, we are immediately informed by the BBC that this is not just any new year. This is an Olympic year! This is a Jubilee year! This is the year that the archives are raided again and long-forgotten TV shows are dragged back into the 21st Century.

What the BBC fails to celebrate is that this is likely to be the year that London business grinds to a halt as the world watches; that London’s employers struggle to keep up with the expected exceptional influx of new laws and changing laws; that employees are suddenly faced with uncertainty, job losses and a diminishing self-worth. This is 2012.

  • We’ve got 49 legal jobs in London from £30,000 – £150,000+

I know this might sound like a lot of doom and gloom and prophecy of the type the witches in Macbeth might conjure. But this year will be a telling time for the UK and place a huge strain on the capital’s many and diverse businesses.

There will be little time to stand still and consider what is happening or where we are going. And, even as we return to work after a lacklustre Christmas, tube strikes are being narrowly avoided and the Oxford Street sales drag on, having started in early December.

So, what can we expect?

Some things we can be certain of:

  • On 1 February, the amount of the compensatory award a tribunal can offer for unfair dismissal increases from £68,400 to £72,300. Uncapped damages for claims of discrimination will continue.
  • At the same time, the cap on a week’s pay for basic award and statutory redundancy calculations will increase from £400 to £430.
  • From 1 April 2012, the standard rates of statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay will increase from £128.73 to £135.45 per week.
  • From 6 April 2012, the standard rate of statutory sick pay increases from £81.60 to £85.85 per week on 6 April 2012. In April, it is expected that the qualifying period for an employee to bring a claim of unfair dismissal will increase from one year to two years. Although the position of those already in employment but not attained two years of continuous employment is still to be clarified. It is likely that a transitional period will apply, but detail will follow in due course.

Less certain is the effect of the current consultation on the ‘fundamental review’ of employment tribunal procedures.

Much has been said already about the proposed reforms that will introduce issuing costs for the first time and, possibly, a two-tier system of claims management. What is assured is a wholesale reform affecting both claimant employees and respondent companies.

Will we see the expected reduction in the number of claims brought generally, or just those claims these reforms are intended to hit: the malicious, frivolous or vexatious employee?

Or will we see an increased reliance on the equality legislation and claims of discrimination (without a time limit or compensation cap) that might not otherwise have been raised but undoubtedly cost more to defend?

And once that is settled, businesses across London will suffer from the Olympic backlash.

The retail and entertainment industries have already made their concerns known as spending decreases, possibly meaning over-manned shops, theatres going dark and enforced holidays or periods of shut-down. Employees will struggle to negotiate the transport chaos that is expected and elect to ‘work’ from home – often without the necessary support or supervision.

All this will happen against the background of a threatened double-dip, a difficult 2011 and the UK’s position in Europe balancing dangerously on the periphery.

Not to worry, I’m sure there will be some good news too. Celebrity Big Brother is back, again; and we have England’s success in the European football championships to look forward to.

Kevin has been an employment lawyer for just over 10 years. Having qualified in Yorkshire, he is now an Associate with London firm Bircham Dyson Bell. He specialises in advising commercial clients on all manner of employment and human resourcing issues, specialising in workplace relations, restructuring, business transfers and discrimination.

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