On 23 May 2012, Business Secretary, Vince Cable presented the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to Parliament. The Bill aims to improve the tribunal system through early conciliation, greater use of settlement agreements and a cheaper and quicker process.
Of particular interest are measures including:
- Requiring claimants to send information to ACAS before lodging their tribunal claim in a bid to promote early conciliation;
- Allowing `legal officers` (yet to be defined) to hear and judge certain tribunal cases (provided all parties agree);
- Employment Appeal Tribunal cases to be heard by a judge sitting alone;
- Giving the Secretary of State the power to change the limit on the amount of the unfair dismissal compensatory award to median annual earnings, three times median annual earnings or 52 times the claimant’s weekly pay (according to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills this means the award could be capped at somewhere between £26,000 (one year`s earnings) and £78,000 (three years` earnings));
- Giving tribunals the power to impose a penalty on employers of 50% of any financial award, subject to a minimum of £100 and maximum of £5,000, where there are ‘aggravating features’ in the claim;
- Clarifying that, to be protected under automatic unfair dismissal laws, whistleblowers must make their disclosure ‘in the public interest’;
- Renaming `compromise agreements` to `settlement agreements`.
Cable claimed that the Bill will “make Britain one of the most enterprise-friendly countries in the world. It will improve our employment tribunals, reform and strengthen competition enforcement, scrap unnecessary red tape and help ensure that people who work hard and do the right thing are rewarded.”
The reforms will have to pass through both houses of Parliament before they come into force.