Sacking employees – a process that is already fraught with pitfalls and difficulties for Britain's employers – is set to become an even bigger minefield thanks to yet another set of new regulation coming into force in October.
The new dispute resolution regulations impose a statutory 13-step process that employers must follow in order to dismiss a member of staff.
Organisations will only be exempt if large numbers of staff are made redundant or if a business closes unexpectedly.
Employers who do not tick the box for each step will automatically be judged to have dismissed the staff member unfairly and could be forced by an employment tribunal to pay up to £50,000 compensation in addition to any award made to the employee.
Speaking to the Times newspaper yesterday, employment lawyer Steven Lorber from Lewis Silkin said that the rules were so onerous that employers would be forced to avoid trying to sack staff.
“This is potentially a complete nightmare for employers," he said. "The employee will know that if they can find any fault with the way the employer has followed the procedure, they will be home and dry.”
David Bishop of the Federation of Small Businesses told the Times: “We think this will have the biggest impact of any employment legislation introduced in the last 10 years. By their very nature, these rules will make it much harder for employers to dismiss staff.”
Employers will be forgiven for thinking that the 13-steps in the procedure have been deliberately designed to make dismissing an employee as difficult as possible:
1. Set down in writing arguments for dismissal
2. Hand copy of statement to employee
3. Hand document over long enough in advance for employee to consider response
4. Hold a meeting with employee
5. Conduct meeting in a way that enables employee to explain their position
6. After the meeting, tell employee decision
7. Offer employee chance to appeal
8. Invite employee to further meeting to discuss appeal
9. Employer must invite senior manager to the appeal meeting
10. Communicate final decision to employee
11. Timing of all meetings must be reasonable
12. Location of meetings must be reasonable
13. The employer must not delay unreasonably over any of these steps
While the Department of Trade and Industry believes the regulations will cut tribunal cases by up to a third, most lawyers and business groups think that they will only achieve the opposite.
Last month, a survey of 3,500 UK employers by law firm the Peninsula found that while three-quarters were aware of the forthcoming regulations, almost all – some 97 per cent – admitted that they do not understand their implications.
One thing is for certain, however: the regulations will amount to a bonanza for employment lawyers.