Law: Our learned friend - `Driver, take me to my employment tribunal'

WITH CHRISTMAS but a whisker away, and talk of recession following close behind, employers may be forgiven for wondering how things are likely to get worse in terms of increased obligations to employees. There has already been a plethora of legislation this year, and next year promises to be just as busy. So what can employers do now to lessen the blow?

The Fairness at Work White Paper has raised the spectre of uncapped compensation for unfair dismissal. If the cap is totally removed, dismissing staff unfairly in areas of high unemployment could be an expensive business. With a current cap on the compensatory element of an unfair dismissal award at pounds 12,000, unfair dismissal has been an irrelevance for highly paid executives. Despite enormous pay packets, such executives have either no written contract, or one that gives them little protection. If the cap on unfair dismissal goes, the chauffeur-driven Mercedes could be turning up at the employment tribunal.

There has also been a rumour that not only will the cap be lifted, but the qualifying period will be removed, too, meaning that as soon as employees walk through the door, they could have unfair dismissal rights. Employers should therefore spend more time at the recruitment stage getting the right staff. Where employers have unsatisfactory staff already, they should act now. If they dismiss staff before the cap has been removed, then if they do fall foul of the unfair dismissal legislation they will not lose their shirts in unfair dismissal compensation.

For employees, the advice must be that they should be models of flexibility and diligence, at least until the cap has been removed. Employees who object to working in excess of 48 hours or forgoing their rest break may have to bite their lips for a couple of months, and give their consent. Once the new law is in place, they can then safely withdraw their consent to work more than 48 hours, and woe betide any employer who goes straight for the P45.

Employers who fear compulsory recognition should embrace unions now. But not just one - they should welcome all the unions they can think of. In order for a union to get recognition, it will have to show that a significant number of employees are members. If no one union can do this - because half a dozen are all represented - none of them will get recognition. (Of course, the unions are no doubt going to get wise to this tactic, and are likely to try to reach pacts with fellow unions to avoid such manipulation.)

Human resource managers should appreciate that much of what they do may not remain secret for ever. The Data Protection Act 1998 means that all employees will soon be able to get access to the manual records held on them. Where employers want to keep highly sensitive information on their employees, they will have to obtain express consent from the individuals concerned, otherwise the records they hold will be illegal.

Employers should also by now have put in place a whistle-blowers policy, in readiness for the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. If no policy is in place, the first time an employer may discover that there is a safety issue is when the Health and Safety Executive pays a visit.

For employees, this era of change is not all good news. The National Minimum Wage should kick in in April 1999. The rate for those aged 26 or over is pounds 3.60 an hour, and for those below age 26 and over 18 it is pounds 3 (with pounds 3.20 for those in training). Employers in low-paid, low-skill industries may start sacking their older employees now in favour of their cheaper younger rivals, so that when the change does come in, they are not forced to give everyone pay increases.

The Fairness at Work proposals should give better protection to employees. But before they are implemented, many employees could find that they have been dispensed with along the way. The advice must be to learn every skill that they can. That way, if an employer does have to dismiss staff, those who can turn their hand to a number of different activities will find it easier to get another job. No doubt this Christmas, Santa can expect a flood of letters asking for multi-skilling stocking-fillers.

The writer is the head of employment law at the city solicitors DJ Freeman

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried