A foundering piece of employment legislation may have been saved by a new procedure now being trialled in Birmingham, according to local law firm Mills & Reeve.

The trial involves amending the way that disputes between employers and their employees are dealt with under a system originally introduced three years ago.

It was brought in under the Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations, and was an attempt to reduce the number of employment disputes ending up before costly and time-consuming tribunals.

All employers were ordered to introduce statutory procedures for dealing with sackings, disciplinary action and other grievances in the workplace.

Where an employee was unhappy with their dismissal, instead of going straight to a tribunal, the employer and employee were encouraged to sit around a table and work out their differences.

However, according to Martin Brewer, a partner in the employment team at Birmingham law firm Mills & Reeve, the new system, whilst laudable in theory, has never got off the ground in practice.

"The new procedures were a good idea and in theory should have reduced the number of cases ending up before an employment tribunal," he said. "Unfortunately, often due to the fixed mindsets of both employers and employees, many cases ended up being confrontational and unproductive.

"In an effort to get round this, a trial has been carried out in Birmingham which has seen the introduction of a mediator to the process, to work along the same lines as a marriage guidance counsellor would.

"There has been an immediate improvement in the outcome of the cases being dealt with - and it seems to me that there is a pressing need for this to be rolled out on a national basis."

Mr Brewer said a similar procedure had been adopted years ago when the construction industry adopted a voluntary arbitration blueprint, which was aimed at reducing the need for costly court battles between the various parties involved in commercial property rows.

In the case of the construction industry system, a mediator was a key part of the procedure from the outset, he added.

"If we had a similar system in the workplace, then it would prevent people on both sides just sitting there with their arms crossed and getting nowhere," he said.

"The presence of a mediator would force both parties to put their differences to one side and focus on resolving the issues causing them to be sitting there in the first place."