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Sarah Fitzpatrick, from Newcastle-based Collingwood Legal, says firms need to be aware of tribunal changes
A NORTH-EAST employment solicitor has warned businesses of costly changes to the tribunal system.
Sarah Fitzpatrick, from Newcastle-based employment law firm Collingwood Legal, says companies must be aware of financial consequences arising from employment regulation breaches.
The advice comes after Jo Swinson, Minister for Employment Relations, said employment tribunals will be able to fine employers up to £5,000 if they have breached workers' rights, on top of any compensation awarded.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills could introduce the new legislation in April next year to cut repeated breaches of employment laws while encouraging greater compliance with employment obligations.
Ms Fitzpatrick, Collingwood Legal associate solicitor, said fines will be imposed on a sliding scale, depending on the amount awarded to the wronged employees.
She said they will only be applied if the tribunal considers an employer’s behaviour in committing the breach had one or more aggravating features.
She said: “At a time when many North-East businesses are already struggling to cope with a great deal of onerous legislation and regulations, there will undoubtedly be concern about the potential for further financial penalties heading their way.
“These measures were included in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act that became law earlier this year, and only a few months ago, the Government said they had no current plans to implement them.
“However, things have now changed and regional employers need to be aware of the potential implications of the proposals.
“An employment tribunal may be more likely to find that the employer’s behaviour in breaching the law had aggravating features where the action was deliberate or malicious, and less likely to do so where an employer has been in operation for only a short period of time, or where the breach was a genuine mistake.
“The prospect of any financial penalty is unwelcome, and needs conscious and careful consideration.
“But North-East businesses should take some comfort from the fact they are unlikely to be penalised unless they flagrantly and repeatedly break the laws that exist to codify the responsibilities employers have towards staff.”
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