Unfair dismissal qualifying period to increase – The law and my bathroom scales

I should have taken my own advice. Standing on the bathroom scales in the first week of the New Year, I had told myself, was not advisable in all the circumstances (those circumstances being a particularly merry Christmas indeed). The scales were not tipped in my favour.

When employers find themselves embroiled in a dispute they often fear the same could be said of Employment Law. On the defensive, with little or nothing to gain and usually responsible for their own legal costs when they “win”, it is easy for employers to conclude that the system is unfairly weighted against them.

This year will see attempts made to redress the balance. From 6th April 2012 the qualifying period for an employee to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal will increase from 1 to 2 years (with exceptions, as always).

Before employers rush to recruit before the 6th April or direct others to the door the day after, I should add it is expected this increase will only apply to new starters joining after this date.

It is the confidence which an employer has when they hire an employee one day to know that they can fire them another, which the Government hopes will boost the economy. This is just part of a raft of measures, which is also expected to include the introduction of an issue fee for employees to bring a claim.

Whether or not you are convinced by arguments that too short a qualifying period is genuinely and/or psychologically a bar to recruitment - as opposed to poor trading conditions which do not justify expansion at a particular time - this is not a new idea.

Qualifying periods have yo-yoed over time and a familiar debate was had in decades past when the period was decreased from 2 years to 6 months (under Harold Wilson’s Labour Government), then increased from 6 months first to 1 year then 2 years (under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative  Government) and then decreased from 2 years to 1 year (under Tony Blair’s Labour Government).

Trying to tip the balance in employment law, like with my bathroom scales, is not easy. It tips one way then the other over time. After a period of excess my thoughts always turn to measures both sensible (such as portion control) and drastic (investing in an exercise bike / expensive clothes horse). Despite my best intentions and initial confidence this will make an impact but it will be modest and I know in due course (i.e when it comes time for next Christmas / the next Labour Government) the scales will inevitably tip again.

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