The Employment Bill which was introduced in November of last year has now received Royal Assent and is due to come into force in April 2003. The changes that are to be introduced will have far reaching implications for employers and employees.
The Employment Act 2002 focuses on a few key areas, namely:
MATERNITY, PATERNITY AND ADOPTION
Ordinary maternity leave will be increased from 18 to 26 weeks, with additional maternity leave of a further 26 weeks also available. The standard rate of statutory maternity pay (SMP) which is currently approximately £62 a week is to be increased to £100 a week. A new right of up to 2 weeks paid paternity leave is to be made available to working fathers with statutory paternity pay (SPP) to be payable at the same rate as the standard rate SMP. The existing right to 13 weeks unpaid parental leave is to continue as before. Adoption leave of up to one year will also be available with one partner being entitled to statutory adoption pay (SAP) for 26 weeks.
It is likely that there will be procedural changes concerning costs. Tribunals will be entitled to have regard to a person’s ability to pay when considering the making of an award against him or her. Representatives may be ordered to pay costs or have their own costs disallowed if the tribunal considers it appropriate given the representatives’ conduct of the proceedings. Practice directions dealing with procedure in tribunals are likely to be issued together with the introduction of a fast track system for particular claims.
There is to be a new term implied in every employment contract which incorporates minimum standards for formal disciplinary and grievance procedures, with no exemption for smaller employers. The effect of this is that any failure to adhere to minimum standard procedures will be a breach of contract which may amount to a wrongful dismissal of the employee. If an employer does not follow the statutory disciplinary procedures, either entirely or in part, this will automatically amount to an unfair dismissal unless the employer can show that they would have decided to dismiss even if the statutory procedure had been followed. An employee will be barred from bringing a complaint to a Tribunal if he or she did not raise any grievance in writing and, if a grievance is made in writing, the employee must wait for 28 days before making a claim to a Tribunal. If either the employer or the employee fails to follow the specified procedures, there will be a consequent effect on any award made by a Tribunal.
The finer detail of many of the Act’s provisions are to be introduced by way of Regulations, on which we will keep you updated.
All employers are going to have to review their employment contracts in the light of the new Act, for example in the areas of grievance and disciplinary procedures.