Brain Food: Workplace Rights - Disputed territory

Controversial new rules for dealing with employment disputes came into force on 1 October that encourage employers and workers to resolve disagreements by following basic procedures for disciplinary and grievance matters. In essence, the issue should be set out in writing, the parties must meet to discuss it, and an appeal arranged if requested. Employees who fail to use the procedures will be barred from bringing an employment tribunal claim. Employers who sack staff in breach of the procedural requirements will be treated as having dismissed them unfairly and liable to pay increased compensation. While trumpeting the new regime as promoting communication in the workplace, the Government makes no bones about the fact that that its main purpose is to reduce tribunal caseloads and save cash. But will the reforms work? They sound straightforward at first blush, but in reality mask a host of complexities and legal uncertainties that will increase the scope for arguments. Rather than nipping disputes in the bud, the upshot will be more (and lengthier) litigation and spiralling costs. Employers can try to reduce their exposure by undertaking a careful review of how they handle dismissals, grievances and disciplinary matters. - Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, e-mail:

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