By Marcus Leach

Proposals for greater use of conciliation, mediation and simplifying compromise agreements are all welcome, but on measures like ‘protected conversations’ the Government needs to be extremely wary of unintended consequences that could add complexity for businesses where they crave simplicity.

That’s according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which also warns that failings in management and leadership are hitting UK productivity and economic growth far harder than ‘red tape’.

“Genuine proposals to simplify employment law and reform the employment tribunal system are welcome — but where it comes to ‘protected conversations’ the Government needs to beware the spectre of unintended consequences," Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at the CIPD, said responding to the package of employment law changes announced by Business Secretary Vince Cable.

“Plans to ensure that all claims go to Acas to be offered conciliation before going to an employment tribunal are sensible and will help reduce claimant numbers, as will plans to simplify the use of compromise agreements and to encourage greater use of mediation.

“However, proposals to introduce some form of ‘protected conversation’ to allow employers to discuss issues like retirement and poor performance without fear of a tribunal claim, while well meant, are likely to actually increase confusion among employers, add to red tape and generate additional legal disputes. By offering false comfort, the Government risks creating a field day for employment lawyers and a nightmare for businesses.

“In the same way, the increase in the unfair dismissal qualification period from one year to two years is a poor policy call. There is no evidence that it will have any significant impact on reducing the number of employment tribunal claims or support the labour market in anyway. Both these measures risk making excuses for poor managers — who will cost firms far more in the form of demotivated, unproductive workers than they will in tribunals.

“Failings in management and leadership that hit UK productivity and leave us lagging our international competitors are a far greater brake on growth than UK employment law, and the legally fraught idea of creating notionally ‘protected’ conversations and increasing to two years the period in which employees are not covered by unfair dismissal law, risk making a bad problem worse.”

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