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
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas