The period of continuous employment required before an employee is eligible to make claims for compensation for unfair dismissal will increase from 1 year to 2 years effective 6 April 2012.
This government announced its intention to make this change in autumn 2011 but has yet to provide formal notification of how existing employees will be impacted. However the direct.gov website, which provides information to individuals about their legal rights, states that the change will only affect new employees whose employment commences on or after 6 April 2012.
This change is one of several that the government proposed in late 2011 with a view to boosting the economy by making it easier for employers to hire and fire staff, as well as easing the burden on the employment tribunal service which hears unfair dismissal and other employment-related claims.
Since the right to claim unfair dismissal was introduced in 1971 the required period of service to qualify for the right has been changed several times, most recently in 1999 when it was reduced from 2 years to 1 year, against a background of litigation claiming that a 2 year qualifying period was indirectly discriminatory to women. It seems that the government’s view in 2012 is that the state of the economy justifies taking measures that may put women at a particular disadvantage, however as economic conditions improve this justification may well be eroded, so there is every reason to expect further changes in the future.