Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 comes into force

Implementation date: 22 April 2016

The Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (which received Royal Assent on 22 April 2016) sets out the framework to make changes to the operation of industrial tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal, including introducing pre-claim conciliation, amending the whistleblowing legislation and introducing gender pay gap reporting. The main provisions of the Act will be commenced by regulations. The Act:

  • introduces pre-claim conciliation to require potential claimants to lodge specified details with the Labour Relations Agency prior to issuing a tribunal claim at an industrial tribunal or Fair Employment Tribunal;
  • creates a new title of "employment judge";
  • introduces a public interest test into the public interest disclosure legislation and removes the requirement that a disclosure must be made "in good faith" (which will be considered by a tribunal in relation to remedy, rather than liability) and, where a disclosure is not made in good faith, the employment tribunal will be able to reduce compensation by up to 25%;
  • introduces vicarious liability where a worker or an agent of the employer subjects a colleague to a detriment for whistleblowing;
  • includes public interest disclosure protections for student nurses and student midwives;
  • introduces a requirement on employers that are "prescribed persons" to report annually on whistleblowing claims that they receive;
  • provides protection for workers on zero hours contracts;
  • requires employers to publish gender pay gap information and, where gender pay differences are identified, to publish an action plan and provide a copy of it to employees and any recognised trade union;
  • requires the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to publish a strategy, including an action plan, on eliminating gender pay differences, within 18 months of the Act coming into force;
  • provides for arrangements to be made for apprenticeships and traineeships, a new professional and technical training offer for 16- to 24-year-olds; and
  • provides for careers guidance to to be provided to appropriate groups.

Other measures extend confidentiality provisions to ensure that the full range of Labour Relations Agency dispute resolution services is appropriately protected; allow for a neutral assessment service to be established; vary the power to amend the qualifying period for the right to claim unfair dismissal from confirmatory to draft affirmative procedure; and provide for more accurate annual rounding to the maximum unfair dismissal award and other employment rights-related payments.