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Do Employers Really Have A Level Playing Field?

May 12th, 2014

You may be feeling that there is far more less red tape than there used to be. I do, to some degree, agree. There has certainly been a great deal of employment changes which employers stand to gain from with effect from 6th April 2014.

For instance, who would ever have thought that the Statutory Questionnaire Procedure would be scrapped, thereby enabling employers to focus on more useful business activities. Also, who would have thought that a person issuing a claim before the Employment Tribunal must first explore settlement via ACAS. This new measure clearly allows employers to gauge what is at stake and how best to manage any risk.

Whilst the Government has in the last few years been keen to please employers, I do think employers should tread with care. All is not what it seems to be.

So what do you really need to know?

Even though the Statutory Questionnaire Procedure has been abolished, ACAS has published a non-binding guideline. In essence, it provides that a person who believes they have been discriminated against (like a job applicant or agency worker) can still ask questions and employers should be prepared to answer them. (The advantage of addressing the matter appropriately could in any event avoid litigation or prevent the Employment Tribunal from drawing any adverse conclusions.) Further, any such individual can exercise his or her right to make a data subject access request. (Whilst such a request may seem like a fishing expedition, I recommend you address it carefully and in line with the data protection legislation, as it could otherwise result in the Information Commissioner’s Office taking action. Their power is wide reaching and where there are serious data protection breaches, it can issue a penalty of up to £500,000.)

The statutory maternity, paternity and adoption rate has increased from 6th April 2014 to £138.18 a week. Sick pay has also been set at £87.55 a week.

From 6th April 2014, the flexible working rights request has been extended to all employees. Since the pool has been widened, it will include those that are studying or wish to combine working and help with the care of their grandchildren. (Incidentally, by the end of June 2014 an ACAS Code is expected. Its aim is to replace the rigid statutory flexible working process to a fluid one.)

If you are involved in any Employment Tribunal dispute, the Employment Tribunal now has the power (and has been able to since 6th April 2014) to order a losing employer to pay a financial penalty to the Secretary of State. Such a penalty can fall between £100 and £5,000; this can be halved if paid within 21 days of the payment due date. The case must have however an “aggravating feature”. Whilst it remains to be seen in what type of cases the Employment Tribunal may decide to impose such a penalty, it is anticipated that it is designed to penalise employers who have been unreasonable, negligent or malicious.

Bhavna Patel is an employment law specialist. If you would like to speak to her about any aspect of this article or any employment related matter, please feel free to call her on 01494 773377 or to email her at hello@lennonssolicitors.co.uk.

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