Press release

Government announces plans to review whistleblowing protections

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A call for evidence to look at the current whistleblowing laws, has been launched by Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson today.

A call for evidence to look at the current whistleblowing laws, and specifically whether there is enough support for people to report wrongdoing, has been launched by Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson today.

The announcement is part of a wider of package of measures being outlined by the government today as part of the Parliament-long Review of Employment Law and through the employment-related law Red Tape Challenge. The measures include changes that streamline the employment tribunal system and also help employers make the offer of settlements or use early conciliation to resolve workplace disputes.

Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson said:

We believe the current whistleblowing system works well. However, we cannot be complacent and recent events have put the spotlight on these protections. We have already introduced significant changes which have strengthened the protections, but in order to better support those who take the often difficult decision to report wrongdoing at work, we are launching a call for evidence to help us see if further changes are required in light of this.

Our main aim is to strike the right balance and increase the flexibility and efficiency of the labour market whilst making sure that we maintain essential protections. Getting this right will help make a valuable contribution to the UK’s long term, sustainable economic growth.

We are also helping businesses tackle workplace problems and offer staff continued employment protection. There are a number of ways to solve disputes that don’t have to involve time-consuming, stressful and costly tribunal hearings. Settlement agreements are one option which can be helpful and provide positive outcomes for all involved.

Early conciliation can also play a key role in helping to settle disputes and we want to see more employers use this method. Our response sets out how we are going to implement the requirement for all potential claimants to contact Acas before going to tribunal.

The measures being outlined today are:

  • changes that will make employment tribunals easier to understand, more efficient and make sure that weak cases which should not proceed are identified earlier and dealt with more effectively
  • changes to legislation, and supporting guidance and tools, which make settlement agreements easier to use as a means of resolving workplace dispute, including where an employment relationship isn’t working out
  • in response to the consultation on reforms to the rules governing the recruitment sector legislation, the government intends to remove some of the regulatory burden on business and focus regulation where workers are most at risk of exploitation; we also intend to focus government enforcement on helping the most vulnerable workers
  • the Government’s Response to the Consultation on Early Conciliation, which sets out the government’s commitment to make early conciliation a key component of the workplace resolution process
  • the unfair dimissal award cap of 12 months’ pay to come into force later this month subject to completing parliamentary scrutiny

Notes to editors:

1.The package of employment reforms announced today are:

The Call for Evidence on the Whistleblowing Framework

The call for evidence will look at whether there are any aspects of the law governing whistle blowing that may not be protecting whistleblowers or barriers that are stopping them from coming forward. Changes in the way the labour market functions and ways of working since the introduction of the framework in 1998 mean that the time is right to look at the effectiveness.

Implementation of legislation around settlement agreements, alongside a new Acas code and guidance

Legislation has been introduced that means from 29 July offers of settlement and their surrounding negotiations will normally be inadmissible as evidence in an unfair dismissal claim to an employment tribunal. A new statutory code of practice by Acas will also come into force on that date, and will be supported by practical guidance, to give employers and employees as much clarity and certainty as possible to negotiate settlement, including template letters and a model agreement, and advice on how to negotiate settlement.

Implementation of a new 12 months salary cap for unfair dismissal

Subject to completing its parliamentary scrutiny, the government intends to bring the pay cap for unfair dismissal award at 12 months pay into force on 29 July. It will run alongside the existing overall cap, and in any individual case, the lower of the two limits would apply. The cap should give employers and employees more realistic expectations about unfair dismissal award levels.

Government Response to the Consultation on the Rules Governing the Recruitment Sector

The government intends to reduce regulation in the recruitment sector but will retain protections for workers such as restricting employment agencies and employment businesses from charging fees to work-seekers; ensuring that employment businesses do not withhold payment from temporary workers and ensuring that there is clarity on who is responsible for paying temporary workers for the work they have done.

The government also intends to focus government enforcement resource on helping the most vulnerable workers, particularly those on the National Minimum Wage (NMW), by moving resources from the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate to work with HMRC’s NMW team to focus on enforcement in the recruitment sector.

Government response to Consultation on the technical detail of how the early conciliation process will work

The government will outline its plan for the introduction of early conciliation (EC) in early 2014. EC will make it mandatory to contact Acas and consider resolving a dispute outside of employment tribunal with the help of a conciliator. It is intended to become a key component of the workplace resolution process, government will continue to work with Acas to ensure there is clear support and guidance for business and employees.

Implementation of new employment tribunal rules of procedure

Measures to come into force later this month include new strike-out powers to ensure that weak cases that should not proceed to full hearing are halted at the earliest possible opportunity. There will also be a new procedure for preliminary hearings that combines separate pre-hearing reviews and case management discussions. This will reduce the overall number of hearings and lead to a quicker disposal of cases saving time and costs for all parties.

2.Full details on the government’s Call for Evidence on the whistleblowing framework can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/whistleblowing-framework-call-for-evidence

3.A copy of the government response to the ‘Reforming the regulatory framework for employment agencies and business consultation’ document can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-reforming-the-regulatory-framework-for-employment-agencies-and-employment-businesses

4.The Growth and Infrastructure Bill sets out a comprehensive series of reforms aimed at supporting businesses, developers, and first time buyers by slashing red tape that delays or discourages business investment, development or job creation.

5.The Employment Law Review is the most comprehensive review of employment law for a decade. Through the Review, and the associated employment-related law Red Tape Challenge, we have listened extensively and we are now embarked on an ambitious implementation programme. We have already made a number of changes to employment law. Examples include:

  • increased the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from one to two years
  • reduced the period from 90 days to 45 days before the first dismissal in a collective redundancy can take place
  • abolished the default retirement age

6.The government has published a draft Deregulation Bill on 1 July. Measures include repealing employment tribunals’ ‘wider recommendations’ powers, which will remove the power of tribunals to recommend the introduction of, or changes to, policies that affect all of an employer’s staff, not just the employee who brought the case. The draft Bill can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/draft-deregulation-bill

7.Red Tape Challenge reforms across government are already saving business over £212 million per year - with many further savings not yet quantified. The latest data shows that around 1,910 regulations have already been identified to be scrapped or substantially reduced.

8.The government’s economic policy objective is to achieve ‘strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries’. It set four ambitions in the ‘Plan for Growth’, published at Budget 2011:

  • to create the most competitive tax system in the G20
  • to make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business
  • to encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy
  • to create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe.

Work is underway across government to achieve these ambitions, including progress on more than 250 measures as part of the Growth Review. Developing an Industrial Strategy gives new impetus to this work by providing businesses, investors and the public with more clarity about the long-term direction in which the government wants the economy to travel.