We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Norman Lamb MP writes… Liberal reform in employment law

July 24, 2012 10:24 AM
By Norman Lamb MP in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

I have something of an insight into how the law in this area works in practice. For my sins, I was an employment lawyer prior to becoming an MP. Acting for both employers and employees, I saw firsthand some of the problems with the tribunal process. The Employment Tribunal had originally been established as a layman's court. The clear intention had been that employee and employer could go to the tribunal without expensive lawyers in tow. How that has changed. Slow, costly and adversarial, it can exacerbate problems and discourage either side from reaching an early agreement. On average there is a stress-filled 5 month wait for a hearing. All this is great for lawyers - but not so good for either the dismissed employee or the ex boss.

There are two key measures in the ERR Bill which can make a real difference. First, before a claim can be issued in the tribunal, an applicant will have to contact ACAS. This is to give an opportunity for early conciliation. We know from the current voluntary scheme - applicants can choose to go to ACAS if they wish - that a significant proportion of those cases do not end up in the tribunal. No-one will be forced into conciliation - but an ACAS officer will have the chance to talk to the complainant to offer it.

The second measure provides a real alternative to the current adversarial battle over the rights and wrongs of a dismissal. We are making it easier for employer and employee to reach agreement over ending the employment relationship.

I believe in the fundamental importance of decent rights and protections in the workplace. That is why I expressed my concern about proposals put forward by Adrian Beecroft for so-called 'no fault dismissal' which would take away those rights. Such a move could signal the return of a hire and fire culture.

It is worth reiterating the fact that the way to get the best out of a workforce is to recruit staff effectively, to invest in their development and give them responsibility and, ideally, a stake in their enterprise.

Yet, sometimes things don't work out. Sometimes it may actually be in the interests of both sides to end the relationship. But so often it all ends in bitterness, acrimony and recrimination.

Is there a way of avoiding this? On the one hand, it is important that employers have the confidence to deal with genuine problems rather than putting off the evil moment for fear of the consequences of things going wrong. On the other hand, employees should be treated fairly.

I know from my own experience, acting as a lawyer, that serious workplace problems can often be resolved quickly by offering a settlement as an alternative to a protracted battle. I wanted to find a way of enabling employers to use this approach without having to spend a fortune on lawyers. The Bill delivers this. The employer - and indeed the employee - will be able to propose a settlement without this being used in evidence against them in unfair dismissal cases brought to tribunal should agreement not be reached. We will follow up this legislation with guidance for employers including model letters and standard settlement agreements.

Crucially, this approach leaves the necessary protections for employees in place. The employee is under no obligation whatsoever to accept the agreement (indeed, for it to even be valid he or she must have received independent legal advice). They have the right to reject it and proceed to a tribunal if they wish. Yet the option of a settlement with a payment of compensation and possibly a reference often seems a very attractive alternative to a long, uncertain wait for your day in court,

The employer secures peace of mind knowing that they will not face expensive tribunal proceedings. This is a decent, sensible, Liberal reform that provides a way of dealing with problems when they occur and allows both parties to avoid the expense, stress and uncertainty of lengthy tribunal proceedings.

* Norman Lamb MP is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs

Read more by or more about .


  • @ William Hobhouse - How would a minimum wage employee, unfairly dismissed, barely able to afford even travel to the employment tribunal (someone in Yeovil would have their ET in Exeter, that's over 20% of a week's Jobseekers Allowance for one return rail fare), facing a legal team on his own cope with a serious financial risk. That person, even if they were completely in the right would be foolish to risk bankruptcy if the expensive lawyers persuaded the judges that the dismissal was fair. Is this Liberal Justice?

    P.S. Before anyone says Legal Aid, unless you're lucky enough to live in Scotland, there is no legal aid payable for ET claims.

  • The "no fault dismissal" measure is a reactionary measure which has the potential to seriously back-fire politically speaking on any politician associated with it once it comes into force and a few "horror stories" surface as they inevitably will. An idea that should be shelved by anyone even remotely interested in the next election.

Post a Comment

Click here to cancel reply.

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.
Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *


Latest tweets from the

LibDemVoice Team

markpack profile

markpack Gender quotas get legal backing in Ireland bit.ly/OdLC1u < Blog by me 35 minutes ago · reply · retweet · favorite

sarabedford profile

sarabedford Paying cash for a small amount is fine. But if ir's an amount that needs a trip to the bank/ATM it's done for an 'unusual; reason. 48 minutes ago · reply · retweet · favorite

stephentall profile

stephentall New from me > Sticking up for David Gauke and his tax-avoidance comments bit.ly/OdJYNf49 minutes ago · reply · retweet · favorite

sarabedford profile

sarabedford I don't avoid tax or claim expensaes just because I can. Even if something is allowed doesn't mean it's right. about 1 hour ago · reply · retweet · favorite

markpack profile

markpack Sticking up for David Gauke and his tax-avoidance comments ldv.org.uk/29566 via @libdemvoice < Good piece by @stephentallabout 1 hour ago · reply · retweet · favorite

sarabedford profile

sarabedford All the people saying it's ok to evade tax because of MPs expenses amd bankers' bonuses should remember two wrongs don't make a right. about 1 hour ago · reply · retweet · favorite

alansm profile

alansm TfL comms: Platform announcer "stand clear, this train is ready to depart" ...driver "we're currently being held at a red signal" about 1 hour ago · reply · retweet · favorite

caronmlindsay profile

caronmlindsay New blogged post Prominent womens' rights campaigner detained in Sudan: It's so easy being a political activist ... bit.ly/NSgCSoabout 1 hour ago · reply · retweet · favorite

alansm profile

alansm That's a lot of PCSOs at London Bridge tube. about 1 hour ago · reply · retweet · favorite

libdemvoice profile

libdemvoice Gender quotas get legal backing in Ireland ldv.org.uk/29557 by @markpackabout 1 hour ago · reply · retweet · favorite


Recent Comments

  • User Avatarjason 24th Jul - 9:52am .......................................As for the idea of being in a coalition with Labour, under a brain dead leader and labour front bench, I find the idea most...
  • User AvatarWilliam Hobhouse 24th Jul - 9:48am Gauke is merely being consistent and thorough in his approach to cracking down on all parts of tax evasion. Lib Dems should back this fully,...
  • User AvatarSteve 24th Jul - 9:42am I regard not paying VAT to be almost as morally corrupt as putting up large 'Tory VAT Tax Bombshell' posters to get elected and then...
  • User AvatarMBoy 24th Jul - 9:37am Agreed. Tax evasion isnt only bad when it's done by rich people. Labour and the left-wing press will try to go for Gauke because they...
  • User AvatarBrianD 24th Jul - 9:28am Once again Bill LeBreton is spot on. No one can deny Nick's enormous committment nor his abilities (I can't judge economic competence only observe the...