Law firms face tougher employment rules at the end of trainee contracts

Law firms failing to implement new employment regulations properly could see a dramatic rise in unfair dismissal claims from trainees who are not kept on once qualified.

Under new statutory disciplinary and dismissal regulations, which came into force on 1 October, when an employee is dismissed a three-stage procedure must be followed by the employer. If not, the employee has an automatic case for an unfair dismissal claim even if there is no disciplinary issue involved.

Trainee solicitors are affected as the regulations apply equally to the ending of fixed-term contracts as well as dismissals on disciplinary grounds and retirement. Although contracts of apprenticeship are normally not included in fixed-term contracts, a spokesman for the Law Society confirmed that trainees are not considered apprentices.

Law firms who choose not to retain a trainee at the end of their two-year training period must now follow the statutory guidelines. According to research for Lawyer 2B, last year one fifth of trainees in the UKs top 50 law firms were not kept on at the firm where they trained.

The statutory procedure, issued by the Department of Trade and Industry, led by Patricia Hewitt, involves the employer setting out the grounds for dismissal in writing and inviting the employee to a meeting to discuss the dismissal. The employee then has the right to appeal, which requires a second meeting. Firms will need to spend more money and time on ensuring the process is correctly and fully carried out.