When will the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims be increased to two years?

03 Oct 2011

From today until 19 October 2011 the focus is on employment law.  The Government aims to have a “one in, one out” system so that the ever increasing amount of employment regulation remains static or decreases.  The Government believes that one of the key laws holding employers back is that employees can bring an unfair dismissal claim once they accrue one year of continuous service.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) consulted with 600 employers over the proposal to increase the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims from one year to two years.  The results were published last week and 78 percent of employers believed that raising the qualifying period would result in a drop in Employment Tribunal claims.  Some sceptics believe that this will just result in more claims under different heads where no qualifying period is required; for example, whistle blowing, health and safety and discrimination claims.

The qualifying period has chopped and changed over the years.  In 1971 it was six months.  It increased in 1980 to one year (two years for small firms with 20 or less employees) and then increased again in 1995 to two years (for employees regardless of the size of their employer).  In June 1999 the qualifying period was reduced to one year.  It is not necessary to introduce an Act of Parliament to bring about a change in qualifying periods, the Minister for Employment Relations simply needs to agree to amend Section 209 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

When BIS published the results of the consultation online last week the report said that “we are increasing the qualifying period for employees to be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal from one to two years and introducing fees for lodging employment tribunal cases to tackle vexatious claims.”

It appeared that the decision has been made before the issue has been properly debated.  BIS did attempt some quick back-tracking by saying that there was a “drafting error”.  However the question still appears to be “when will the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims be increased to two years?” as opposed to “will it happen?”