Is dismissing employees about to get easier?

luketappTHE rules around sacking staff are about to change. Solicitor Luke Tapp (left) explains how and offers advice to employers on handling the transition

THE widely disliked Statutory Dispute Resolution Procedures (SDRP) which govern disciplinary, grievance and dismissal procedures will no longer have to be applied by employers from April 6, 2009. Instead, employers will have to adhere to the new, less restrictive ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.


The SDRPs, which were introduced in 2004 to set minimum standards for dealing with workplace disputes, attracted much criticism for their complex and prescriptive nature. Instead of discouraging litigation, statistics indicate the number of cases rose by over a third during the three-year period following their introduction.

Following a review of the SDRPs in 2007, they will be officially repealed on 6 April 2009. The change in direction is described by ACAS as introducing “less emphasis on the mechanics of how to manage disciplinary issues, grievances and dismissals and more flexibility to resolve problems at an early stage”.

The key piece of machinery which will assist the government in achieving this change in direction is the new binding ACAS Code of Practice accompanied by the non-binding ACAS guide.

Key changes

Whilst the code retains many of the principles behind the SDRPs, here are some of the key changes:

  • An employer’s failure to comply with the three-step dismissal procedure will not result in automatic unfair dismissal;
  • Where an employee fails to lodge a formal grievance before submitting a tribunal claim, s/he will not be barred from bringing the claim;
  • An unreasonable failure to follow the code can result in an up to 25 per cent increase/decrease in compensation (reduced from the previous maximum 50 per cent);
  • The Code does not apply to redundancies or non-renewal of fixed-term contracts.

The above list is by no means exhaustive and there are further amendments to the procedures which employers should ensure they familiarise themselves with.

Moving forward

Although the code will come into effect on April 6, there will be a transitional period which means that employers are still likely to be bound by the SDRPs for some months yet. In the meantime, employers should follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Review their disciplinary and grievance procedures to ensure that they are compatible with the new law;
  2. Identify where a more relaxed and informal approach to dealing with problems at work may be appropriate; and
  3. Train managers in how to deal with problems at an early stage to stop issues from escalating.

Inevitably, the overhaul has not been welcomed by all. The main concern is that the broad and flexible principles in the code may result in a lack of clarity regarding the correct approach to workplace disputes.

So in answer to the headline’s question: yes, dismissing an employee may no longer be the hazardous minefield that it was under the SDRPs, but it will by no means become a straightforward procedure overnight.

Luke Tapp is a solicitor at Peterborough firm Greenwoods Solicitors LLP.