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New Acas Code helps businesses save time and money through simplified dispute resolution system

Thursday 02 April 2009

UK businesses are set to benefit from changes to employment legislation, according to Acas, the employment relations service.

From April 6th, amendments to the Employment Act 2008 will see the introduction of a simplified system of dealing with workplace problems, particularly discipline and grievance issues.

Acas has played a crucial role in the amendments, drafting the new Code of Practice which provides guidelines employers and employees should follow when addressing workplace disputes. The Acas Code is designed to encourage employers and employees to resolve workplace problems early on, to prevent costly and stressful employment tribunals.

The new approach will place less emphasis on the mechanics of managing disciplinary issues, grievances and dismissals and will create more flexibility to resolve problems early before they escalate.

Under the new rules employment tribunals will have the power to adjust awards if employers or employees have failed unreasonably to comply with the Acas code.

Minister for Employment Relations, Pat McFadden said: "Tribunals can be costly, time-consuming and draining for people and businesses alike.

"We have changed the rules so that employers and employees will have greater flexibility to deal with grievances and disciplinary issues at work at the earliest opportunity. Acas' expanded helpline and conciliation services will play a key role in delivering this".

John Taylor, Acas Chief Executive said: "These changes will give businesses more flexibility when dealing with workplace problems. Often a quiet word at the early stage of a problem is all that is required to 'nip things in the bud'. This should help improve relationships between managers and employees: cutting down disputes whilst saving time, money and stress for all concerned."

Acas will be providing a free early conciliation service in certain types of cases which could otherwise become Employment Tribunal complaints. This service will help resolve workplace problems at an earlier stage and is available through the enhanced Acas Helpline which will be open for longer from 6 April.

The changes come as a result of the Dispute Resolution Review carried out by Sir Michael Gibbons which looked at how the current statutory three stage procedure for discipline and grievance issues was working in practice. The Review suggested repealing this procedure in favour of a revised Acas Code of Practice for businesses to follow.

Research by Institute for Employment Studies revealed that the Acas helpline helped to avoid around 16,000 employment tribunals in 2006, saving business £120 million.

What you should think about - if you are an employer:

  • Review your disciplinary and grievance procedures so they are compatible with the new law
  • Identify where a more relaxed and informal approach to dealing with problems at work may be appropriate
  • Train your managers in how to deal with problems at an early stage which could stop them from escalating

What you should think about - if you are an employee:

  • Keep an open mind about new ways of resolving work problems. The best solution is often an honest discussion with your employer
  • If your employer suggests it, consider mediation. (A third party) (or) someone from outside your workplace can often help you overcome big problems
  • Try to avoid an employment tribunal. In many cases, there will be other ways of solving your problem at work which will involve less cost, stress and time.

More information and guidance on the changes are available at

and
www.acas.org.uk/dgcode2009 (new Acas Code on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures)

Notes for editors

1. Acas' aim is to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training and a range of services working with employers and employees to prevent or resolve problems and improve performance. It is an independent statutory body governed by a Council consisting of the Acas Chair and employer, trade union and independent members.

2. From 6 April, an enhanced Acas Helpline (08457 47 47 47) will be open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

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