It isn’t all that often that the Government makes changes to employment law in a way that benefits employers. Usually business owners hear that their employees are being given protection in a new area of workplace relations, increasing the red tape around all aspects of employing people. Take the Agency Workers Regulations 2010, for example, which were introduced in October 2010, giving agency workers certain rights to equal treatment as permanent employees when used by an organisation. This came only a year after the Equality Act 2010, which toughened up discrimination legislation, including prohibiting an employer’s ability to ask health related questions before a job offer is made.

However, 2012 heralds a significant shift in Government policy and it appears the tides are turning. This year the Government will set the ball in motion to give the power back to employers.

The first of these helpful changes takes place this week, on Friday 6th April 2012. This is particularly important if you are about to offer someone a job to start with immediate effect. If that applies to you, then you might want to hold fire for a couple of days. On 6th April 2012 the law relating to dismissing employees is changing.

Here’s what’s happening. Currently, when you take someone on, they do not have the right to claim unfair dismissal at Tribunal during their first year of employment. Once they hit the year, and you want to dismiss them, you must show that their dismissal falls into one of the potentially fair reasons for dismissal and you must ensure you have followed the correct procedure to obtain a fair dismissal. Any defects in this procedure put you at risk of the employee bringing an unfair dismissal claim at Tribunal.

Those of you who often call for advice will be familiar with the question that rolls off the adviser’s tongue – ‘how long has this employee worked for you?’. This is extremely significant because the advice you receive will differ depending on whether your answer is ‘less than one year’ or ‘over a year’.

The changes on 6th April 2012 mean that unfair dismissal protection will only apply to those employees who have two years’ service, instead of one year. Essentially, this means that an employer will have two years to assess the suitability of an employee. If the employee turns out not to be suitable, the employer can dismiss up to two years later without much risk of being taken to Tribunal.

There is always a ‘but’ though, and here it comes. Employees currently have the right to claim automatically unfair dismissal from day one of employment. This provides protection when an employee is dismissed for prescribed reasons, for example, being pregnant, or complaining that they have not been given a pay slip. The law in this respect has not changed and protection applies from the start of employment.

The other important feature of this change is that it only applies to employees who begin employment with you on or after 6th April 2012 – so that’s why you might want to hold off on the new starters just until next week so that you have that two year leeway with them. Anyone who is already employed by you, or starts on 5th April 2012, for example, will still be able to claim unfair dismissal after one year.

For any further information regarding the issues above, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.