Bosses `begin cull of awkward staff'

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EMPLOYERS HAVE begun dismissing "awkward" staff before the introduction of new laws on workers' rights, according to leading law firms.

Companies are being advised to "deal with problem situations" ahead of imminent legislation that increases compensation for unfair dismissal from pounds 12,000 to pounds 50,000, a figure which rises to pounds 64,700 when an employer refuses to reinstate the sacked worker.

The Employment Relations Bill, published last week, also means that employees will enjoy full legal protection from unfair dismissal after one year's employment, rather than the present two.

Under the proposed legislation, which could be on the statute book in April, workers in all British companies, irrespective of size or whether they recognise unions, will have to involve employee representatives in disciplinary and grievance procedures when it is requested.

Martin Warren, employment law partner at the solicitors Eversheds, said that two large corporate clients had already taken the decision to dismiss troublesome employees ahead of the introduction of the new law. Mr Warren said managers in the companies were attempting to shed staff because of poor performance, but they had not kept proper records to prove the incompetence of the employees concerned. He said another client had also asked for advice on the issue.

He told Personnel Today magazine that firms in the City of London were among those seeking to sack employees in advance of the law introducing a new maximum payout.

Mr Warren said that while he would advise companies "purely from a legal point of view and not from a moral one", they should be aware that getting rid of employees in a peremptory manner might have a "downside". He pointed out that the Bill also contained provisions for the recognition of unions, which might be hastened by attempts to dismiss allegedly troublesome staff before the law came into force.

Julian Roskill, head of employment at Rowe and Maw, had advised organisations to "deal with problem situations". He said: "We would say, `Be aware of the changes and deal with it sooner rather than later'."

Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing Science Finance union, warned against employers in industries unprotected by unions taking "evasive action". He said they would antagonise the employees left in the organisation. "This is hardly a recipe for harmonious relations in the workplace," he said.

Paul Goulding, head of the Employment Lawyers' Association, also added a note of caution. He said that companies failing to adhere to proper procedures when dismissing staff could find themselves involved in costly litigation. David Bradley, of the lawyers Dibb Lupton, thought "cynical" employers might already have missed the boat. With the law expected to be on the statute book by April, notice periods, especially among middle and senior managers, might be too long to beat the deadline.