Law will spark case work flood

A FLOOD of work is predicted for employment lawyers, tribunals and courts as the Fairness at Work Bill passes into law.

David Widdowson, head of employment law at Bevan Ashford, says the increase in compensation for unfair dismissal from £12,000 to £50,000 would mean many more claims, especially from emplo yees at “the top end of the market”.

The Employment Law-yers' Association is pressing the Government to improve funding to under-resourced tribunals facing a “massive increase in workload”.

Widdowson says there is also a strong potential for litigation as a result of changes over fixed-term contract law and as the law is interpreted.

In particular, parents are allowed “a reasonable amount of time off” for a “domestic incident”, and employees can be accompanied by a supporter in grievance hearings if the request is “reasonable”.

“One person's emergency is another's minor hiccup, for example – so it ensures there will be quite a lot of work for the likes of me, as the meaning of these phrases are tested in the courts and tribunals.”

The law, for the first time, gives fathers rights as a parent and gives formal legal protection to strikers.

Whereas sacking strikers en masse was to be banned altogether, it is now banned for the first eight weeks of action. The Trade and Industry Secretary will also be able to ban employers from compiling “blacklists” of unionists.

Employers have exp-ressed fear at the prospect of expensive litigation as unions flex their new muscles, but David Cockburn, employment and trade union law partner at London-based Pattinson & Brewer, says unions “don't want to over-use the law and will be waiting to see the attitude of the courts” before pushing hard on issues such as union recognition.