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Higher damages for dismissal

Sacking an employee unfairly will become expensive once the Employment Relations Bill reaches the statute book.

Although the Government has backtracked on earlier proposals to scrap the upper limit on unfair dismissal awards, the Bill, now before Parliament, does raise this limit from pound;12,000 to pound;50,000. It also cuts the qualifying period for claims from two years to one year and bans waiver clauses in fixed-term contracts designed to prevent employees from bringing claims.

These measures are likely to lead to a rise in the number of unfair dismissal claims reaching employment tribunals (formerly industrial tribunals.) At present, most teachers and heads claiming unfair dismissal settle before their cases reach a tribunal. But the prospect of winning pound;50,000 compensation could change that.

"There might be less reluctance to go to tribunal," said Russell Clarke, deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association. "But we shall take the same view as we do now that the best way out of a difficult situation is some sort of settlement or compromise because attendance at an employment tribunal is a distressing business for both sides."

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