Let’s look first at what is about to change on the employment tribunal front as from 6th April 2012.
- The Qualifying Period for Unfair Dismissal rights – this will increase from 12 months to two years for new employees whose start date is on or after 6th April 2012. The important reservation we have about this is that there are numerous claims a dismissed employee can bring which do not require any qualifying period of service at all.
- The maximum amount of a deposit order (the amount a party has to pay in order to continue proceedings) doubles from £500 to £1,000. **
- The maximum amount of a costs order (in favour of a legally represented party) doubles from £10,000 to £20,000. **
- Witness statements will be taken “as read” unless the tribunal directs otherwise.
- Tribunals can direct that the parties to a dispute are responsible for paying witnesses’ expense – and that the losing party should reimburse the winner for any such costs already paid out. Note the underlined wording.
- Judges will hear unfair dismissal cases alone – unless they direct otherwise. It is not entirely clear whether this will happen or it is just a proposal at this stage.
** Comment. When tribunals were set up, following the Industrial Relations Act of 1966 the intention was that costs would not be awarded because the parties did not need to be represented. Whilst this doubling of the limits may look helpful to employers, it will be meaningless unless tribunals actually make more such orders, something they have been remarkably reluctant to do.