By Daniel Hunter

The Queen’s speech announced two measures that at first glance could be of significant interest to employers. However employment law experts at Croner are unconvinced of the effectiveness of the planned changes.

“The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will reform the employment tribunal system by providing more options for the early resolution of disputes through Acas,” comments Andy Willis, Head of Litigation at Croner. “The proposal, which has already been the subject of a consultation, envisages the creation of a ’settlement window’ when claims are first lodged by claimants. During that time Acas will explore with the parties whether an amicable settlement can be reached, without the need for a tribunal hearing.

“Previous attempts have been made to encourage parties to pursue the settlement route, with limited success. However this change, coupled with the planned introduction of tribunal fees for Claimants in 2013 or 2014, may well be more successful. Clearly business will welcome any attempt to reduce the burden of expensive tribunal litigation, but whether this has the intended result remains to be seen.”

Of the plans to increase the flexibility of parental leave, Croner Senior Employment Consultant, Louise Barnes, says: “There have been some references in the media that employees will be able to transfer some of their maternity leave entitlement. This is not the intention of the impending changes; instead it is anticipated that employees may be able to transfer some of their parental leave entitlements as provided under European law.

“We have been anticipating the implementation of this piece of legislation since 2010 and, in order to comply with it, the UK is required to adopt national provisions to incorporate parental leave entitlements for male and female workers for up to four months for each child - currently the UK allows for 13 weeks leave per child. The UK will also be expected to allow for some of the parental leave to be transferred between the mother and father.

“This is not news for the HR community; in fact the UK is behind the rest of Europe in relation to its parent friendly employment provisions. This legislation was expected by March 2012 and the UK is taking advantage of a one year extension contained within the European Directive.

“Any increase in parental leave would be considered good news for those workers who can take advantage of the provisions, although employers may not be so happy if it has a negative impact on productivity. However, at present there are limited details about how significant the changes will be. Given the fact that parental leave is a period of unpaid time off which is not widely enjoyed by the majority of UK workers, it is difficult to predict how wide the impact, and uptake, of any increases will be.”

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