Unfair dismissal process is a massive change we all need to know about

One of Scotland’s pre-eminent employment law practitioners spoke of the important changes caused by the introduction of ‘early intervention’ to resolve unfair dismissal claims.

Tony McGrade (pictured) a partner with McGrade + Co, in Glasgow, and a member of the United Employment Lawyers Network, was one of the keynote speakers at the UEL seminar in the Signet Library in Edinburgh.

“The only thing certain in employment law is that there will be change. It is how we respond to the change that is important,” he told network members and guests.

In setting the context, he spoke of a host of changes made over the last few years by the UK Coalition Government, including the ceiling for unfair dismissal pay-outs, which is £74,200, or 52 week’s gross pay, and that employees must be employed for over two years before being eligible to make a claim.

However, the forthcoming changes caused by early conciliation through the ACAS are significant in that they are designed to further cut the number of Employment Tribunals in the UK.

“This is the most significant shift in employment law in the last few years and it will start to impact in around six weeks’ time,” he said.

Early conciliation through ACAS, the conciliation service, will cover the vast majority of claims across the UK.

The process, he said, is very simple, possibly to help those who are claiming unfair dismissal find some early recourse. It is kicked off by the claimant and the respondents name and address being giving to ACAS, either in writing or online, this then triggers ACAS’s involvement and the release of a unique reference number.

During the month it will be evaluated by the ‘conciliation officer’ within ACAS. If they feel that the two sides are too far apart and unable to compromise, a certificate will be released and only then can the case proceed to a full Employment Tribunal. Without the unique number and certificate, a future Employment Tribunal will be rejected.

Tony McGrade spoke of the time limit for this process and some of the hurdles and exemptions. He also raised the issue of whether this could be done by a legal representative, or whether this must be done solely by the claimant.

Malcolm Mackay, the chairman of the UEL network, welcomed members, including the six new Scottish law firms that have joined United Employment Lawyers, making the group one of the largest in Scotland.

“We are now a very significant organisation in the sphere of work-related law and employment and we have an impressive footprint in High Streets right across Scotland,” he said.

Earlier several of UEL members presented, including Ben Thornber, Thornber Employment Law, who spoke about what is ‘reasonable’ and how different definitions might impact on a tribunal outcome, and Steve McLaren, of Kippen Campbell, who spoke of some recent work in tribunals and how judges were interpreting employment law changes.

The special guest speakers were Carol Fox, of Fox and Partners, who gave a well-received talk on the challenge to tribunal fees, and Kathleen Bolt, of Kathleen Bolt Mediation, who talked about the use of mediation in unfair dismissal cases. Special international guests who attended the meeting as observers were Stelios Koumartzakis and Vasiliki Kontopoulou, who spoke about the similarities between Greek law and UK employment law and the opportunities for Scottish lawyers to work in Europe on employment law cases across Borders.

Brian Inkster, a new UEL network member, and partner with law firm Inksters, based in the Shetland Isles, gave an entertaining and informative talk on social media. He is one of the original legal users of Twitter in the UK and spoke about how it had brought in business and helped raise the profile of his company. He spoke about how Tweeting should be used like a convoy, with a battleship for the main brand or firm, and the other destroyers, representing the partners, staff from the law firms, who tweet alongside the main comment and help to disseminate this to others. He offered some sensible advice on what and how to Tweet.