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What does the extension of the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims mean for employers?

As part of its commitment to reforming employment law, the Government has confirmed that the qualifying period for protection from unfair dismissal will increase from the current one year to two years as of April 2012.

The thinking behind this is that with fewer employees able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal, the Tribunal’s workload will be eased. The Government’s rationale for this move goes beyond just this, however. It suggests that the time and money employers waste on defending employment claims can be freed up and invested valuably back into the economy to drive business development.

But what are the hidden things to be aware of in this move?

1. With less fear of reprisal in the event of a working relationship turning bad, employers are likely to feel that they can recruit more employees, assuming their business growth supports this.

2. But with employees able to obtain certain rights from day one of their employment (e.g. protection from discrimination such as cases relating to pregnancy, disability and health and safety) will we see a sudden increase in these, more complex and expensive, claims instead?

Whilst the clear priority of the Government is to increase growth in our economy, the change has been criticised for being made at the unnecessary expense of employees. Many critics consider that the current scheme (of one year) allows employers enough time to assess whether to keep an employee or not, and this extension as nothing more than putting employees at risk.

We watch this space to see what happens from April 2012. If you have concerns about this, within the context of your business, please contact one of our employment specialists.

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