Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 comes into force

Implementation date: To be confirmed

The Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 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 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.