Increase to qualifying period for unfair dismissal will only affect new employees

As everyone is no doubt already aware, the qualifying period to claim unfair dismissal is set to increase on 6 April 2012 from one year’s service to two. However, there has (until now) been little information as to how that change might be effected and, in particular, whether it will be retrospective. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed today that the increase will only apply to people employed on or after 6 April 2012; employees already in post will not be affected.

The reason that the change will not be applied retrospectively is apparently due to the rationale behind it, which is to assist the economy by encouraging recruitment. It will mean that employers will have to check an employee’s start date and length of service when contemplating dismissal, to ensure that the risk of claims is properly evaluated.

Whilst the change will not give employers complete freedom to dismiss employees who do not have sufficient service to claim unfair dismissal (as no qualifying period is required to bring certain claims about certain types of dismissals, for example, dismissals for whistle-blowing, or due to discrimination), it should make it easier for employers to dismiss where employees are no longer needed, or turn out not to be skilled or dedicated enough to properly undertake their work. The Government expects the change to cut the number of unfair dismissal claims by just over 3,000 a year.