A greater reliance on reservist forces to try and compensate for army job cuts of 20,000 by 2020 could lead to a jump in employment tribunal claims among unwary employers.
The coalition government has announced that it will axe 17 major army units over the next eight years, in a move that will see the number of regular soldiers fall from 102,000 to 82,000, while the number of reservists will double to 30,000.
But according to Philip Henson, a partner and joint head of employment law at law firm, DKLM LLP
, in order to avoid a spike in possible legal action, more needs to be done to inform businesses in general, and small-to-medium enterprises without an HR or legal function in particular, about the rights of reservists and how the call-up system operates.
“I am quite confident that few business owners will be familiar with the main legislative provisions that govern the rights and duties of reservists – the Reserve Forces Act 1996 and the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985, let alone the Reserve Forces (Callout and Recall) (Exemptions Etc) Regulations 1997,” he said.
As a result, they were unlikely to be aware that, terminating a reservist’s employment on the grounds that they might be mobilised in future, could make them guilty of a criminal offence and open to fines, compensation payments and/or unfair dismissal claims.
On the other hand, employers had the right to request that their employee be exempted from mobilisation once they received written notice of the event from the Ministry of Defence
They would need to demonstrate that the absence could, for example, harm the business and ensure that any application for an exemption, deferral or revocation was made within a mere seven days of getting such notice, however.
Nonetheless, head of the army, General Sir Peter Wall, and defence secretary, Philip Hammond, acknowledged that the laws protecting reservists and their employers may need to be revisited.
A consultation paper, which is expected to be published in the autumn, could lead to legislation “for significant changes to terms and conditions”, Hammond told the Guardian
It could also result in a toughening up of the rules to prevent reservists from facing workplace discrimination and to ensure the provision of more generous compensation for their employers while they are away.