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HR News Round-up - June 2012 (Archive) 

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill 
The Government’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill has now been published and will begin its passage through Parliament. The Bill outlines the proposals to reform Employment Tribunals and has been expected for some time, so many of the proposals contained therein are not unexpected. These include: - 
A mandatory period of ACAS conciliation before employment tribunal proceedings can be started, which ACAS expects to be operational by April 2014. 
Where both parties are in agreement, the proposals will allow for specific (and straightforward/low-value) tribunal claims to be heard by ‘legal officers’ rather than a full Tribunal Panel and/or Chair (Judge); it looks as though this is how the promised ‘rapid resolution’ process will be implemented. 
EAT cases to be heard by a judge alone unless the judge decides otherwise. 
Protection for whistleblowers in the Employment Rights Act 1996 to be amended so that it only applies where the individual has made a disclosure which they believe is ‘in the public interest’. 
Compromise agreements to be renamed ‘settlement agreements’ in an attempt to increase the uptake of parties opting to put these in place rather than to head to an Employment Tribunal. 
In what might be seen as a move counter-balancing the planned introduction of fees for tribunal claimants, tribunals will be able to impose a penalty on employers of 50% of any financial award where that employer has breached a worker’s rights and where there are ‘aggravating features’ (which have yet to be defined). 
The Secretary of State is to get the power to vary the cap on unfair dismissal compensatory awards, either by substituting a new figure or by limiting compensation to a multiple of the claimant’s weekly pay. Different caps could be applied to different categories of employer; so, for example, the limit on compensation could be lowered for SMEs. 
The Bill may also introduce provisions to address ‘the disconnect between directors’ pay and long-term company performance by giving shareholders of UK quoted companies binding votes on directors' remuneration’. 
 
The Beecroft Report 
 
The back-end of May also saw the publication of the Beecroft Report into Employment Reforms and includes proposals to: - 
 
Bring an end to a mandatory 90-day consultation period when a company is considering redundancy programmes involving over 100 employees and replace it with a standard 30-day consultation period. 
Introduce an emergency five-day consultation period if a firm is in severe distress 
Introduce a cap on loss-of-earnings compensation for employees who make successful discriminatory dismissal claims, where currently there is none. 
Reform of the rights that workers are allowed to "carry" to new employers when their companies are the subject of a takeover (TUPE) 
Remove provisions in the Equality Act which make employers liable for claims from employees for "third-party harassment" e.g. customers making "sexist" comments to staff in a restaurant 
Shifting responsibility for checking foreign workers' eligibility to work in the UK from employers to the Border Agency or the Home Office 
Introduce the concept of ‘no-fault’ dismissals 
 
The rationale behind these changes is to improve the supply of suitable staff to firms, who would be less afraid of having to make large payouts or face legal action when laying off those employees who are no longer needed. Consequently, it is theorised that; firms would be more inclined to employ staff, it will make the UK a more attractive proposition to new business and ultimately, it will kick start the growth needed in the economy. 
 
Whilst some of the less controversial proposals contained within the report have been accepted and are currently being acted upon, the Report in its entirety has not been accepted by the Government and we await further developments in this area. 
Euro 2012, London 2012 and the Paralympics 
 
From June until September, the UK will see an unprecedented run of major sporting occasions which may bring disruption to the workplace. The football tournament in June will be less disruptive as most of the fixtures will take place in the evening from 5 00 pm onwards and will therefore be outside of most employee’s working hours. However, the forthcoming Olympics and Paralympics are likely to be much more disruptive, with the following being potential issues for Employers: - 
 
employees wanting time off to attend these events as spectators 
employees wanting time off to participate in the Games as volunteers around the Olympic & Paralympic sites 
specifically for Employers in London and surrounding areas; the impact of the Games on the transport infrastructure and the ability of staff to access easily their usual routes into work, with the increased volume of people attending the games. 
 
The following checklist provides Employers with some guidance on what they should be thinking about as the Opening Ceremony ebbs ever nearer... 
 
Review relevant policies; ensure that they are up to date and can deal appropriately with particular aspects of employee behaviour that may be prevalent during the Games. It is feasible to implement a ‘short-term’ policy to deal with employees conduct for the duration of the Olympic/Paralympic Games and which may include such areas as time-keeping, authorised and unauthorised absence during the period, sickness absence (e.g. increased monitoring and provision of first day certificates), booking time off and holidays etc. It will be vital that Employers act fairly and reasonably during this time and they must ensure that any policies – whether they be permanent policies or a short-term policy are applied equally across all employees. 
Ensure that the policies are appropriately communicated throughout the Organisation and that every employee is aware of what policies are in place, the conduct expected of them during this time and the processes that they need to follow e.g. for reporting sickness absence, booking annual leave etc. and that they are made aware of the consequences of not following the procedures. 
Be prepared to manage "sickies"; put in place measures to require any employee who may be absent as a result of sickness during any key events to show evidence of their absence, e.g. a first-day medical certificate issued by a GP or Medical Practitioner (please note; these not always issued free of charge and you may have to reimburse employees for this certificate) and ensure that ‘return to work interviews’ are conducted. If you have compelling evidence that an employee’s absence was not as a result of genuine sickness absence, then this should be addressed through the disciplinary procedure. 
Be prepared and flexible to deal with employees who may be late into work as a result of genuine travel issues resulting from the increased volume of passengers on the transport system. If they are experiencing genuine difficulties and it is practical to do so, consider the option of changing their hours to allow them to travel outside of peak times or to work from home. Again, if you have compelling evidence to show that an employee’s timekeeping is falling below acceptable standards and they are not genuinely experiencing difficulties caused by the Olympic/Paralympic Games, then this should be dealt with in accordance with usual disciplinary rules and procedures. 
Explore options around flexible working (including timing of breaks – see next point). 
Install TV screens to allow employees to watch key events that are scheduled during working hours or have the TV’s located in rest rooms to enable employees to watch events during their rest periods. This is likely to increase employee engagement/motivation and will make the idea of skiving off work less appealing. You may also consider relaxing or tightening the rules around Internet Usage during this time to cover employees who may try to stream live events onto their PC/Laptops and you should ensure that these policies are well communicated across the Organisation. NB if installing TVs, Employers should ensure that they have the appropriate licences in place. 
Consider using informal warnings as a means to address issues during this time, rather than initiating formal proceedings in what will be unusual circumstances. Obviously, where employees persistently flaunt the rules or where their unacceptable behaviour is part of a consistent pattern, then this should be addressed through the formal procedure. 
 
For many employees and Employers, this will be a ‘once in a life-time’ event and it should be treated as such; ensuring that those who wish to do so can enjoy the occasion... whilst remembering that not every employee will be interested in the Olympic/Paralympic Games and they should not experience any undue burden of covering for their colleagues who are...! 
 
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