Claims over lost jobs to be easier

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TOM (not his real name) worked for over three years for a car recovery service. On one occasion, delivering a car to a customer, he failed to notice additional instructions on the invoice to pick up another customer's car.

His employer sacked him, and Tom was subsequently awarded more than pounds 7,000 in the Industrial Tribunal for unfair dismissal.

Tom chose only to enforce his statutory rights. At present, those with substantial additional contractual claims must pursue them separately through the High Court or county court. This will change when the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill, now before the House of Lords, becomes law.

Contractual claims usually arise from inadequate notice of termination of employment. The starting point for calculating damages is the value of the net salary and fringe benefits that would have been received during the notice period. Claims must be submitted within six years of the date of dismissal, but can take between 18 months and two years to come to court.

Employees of at least two years' standing enjoy additional statutory protection. Claims must usually be made to the Industrial Tribunal within three months in the case of unfair dismissal and six months in the case of redundancy. There is a basic award of between pounds 102.50 and pounds 307.50 for each completed year of service, with an upper limit of 20 years, and a compensatory award of up to pounds 10,000 depending on what the tribunal considers 'just and equitable'.

A tribunal hearing is less formal than the courts and allows applicants to bring claims without legal representation. An employee losing a case will not normally have to bear the employer's costs. Unlike in the courts, there is no legal aid available.

Michael Lambe, an employment law case worker with the London-based Free Representation Unit, welcomes the proposed changes. He said: 'The current position is ludicrous. If an employee who is entitled to receive payment on the termination of his employment is forced to start two sets of proceedings in order to recover what is owed, this is surely a waste of time and money.'

Ronnie Fox, senior partner and employment specialist at Fox Williams, a City law firm, agrees: 'Where employer and employee simply cannot agree on the financial arrangements following termination of employment, dealing with the contractual and statutory claims together should help save costs and conserve valuable management time.'

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