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Employment tribunal powers set to change from 6 April 2012

14 Mar 2012

The Government has published in draft form the Unfair Dismissal and Statement of Reasons for Dismissal (Variation of Qualifying Period) Order 2012 which deals with changes to the unfair dismissal qualifying period of employment and the composition of employment tribunals for unfair dismissal claims. It is expected that the changes will come into force on 6 April 2012.

The main effects will be that as of 6 April 2012, the qualifying period which is needed to bring an unfair dismissal claim will be increased from one to two years of continuous employment. This means that if an employees contract commences on or after 6 April 2012 they will need to have been employed for two years before a claim can be brought whereas employees with contracts dated prior to 6 April will remain subject to the one year qualifying period.

In addition, there is to be a change in relation to the composition of tribunal hearings for unfair dismissal. As from 6 April 2012, unless the judge considers it inappropriate, employment judges can sit alone to hear unfair dismissal proceedings in the employment tribunal rather than being accompanied by two lay members, each from an employer and employee background, as is currently the case. Three members will continue to sit for most other substantive tribunal hearings.

Judges will continue to have the power to decide that a case should be heard by a full tribunal for one or more of the reasons set out in s 4 (5) of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 – for example because there is likelihood of a dispute arising on the facts or because there is an issue of law arising which would make it desirable for a full tribunal to hear the case.

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