April - the month of cuckoos, Easter eggs, daffodils and St George. But, of course, it is also known for April Fools - and for employers the biggest joke tends to fall on April 6, one of two so-called 'common commencement dates' for new employment legislation (in case you don't know, the other is 1 October).

This April look out for two major employment changes: in flexible working (which I will discuss next month) and dispute resolution. The Employment Act 2008 marks the end of the mandatory 'three-step' process for disciplinary and dismissal procedures, what we all know as the letter, meeting and right to appeal. The Act is designed to reduce the escalating number of employment tribunals. Since the Dispute Resolution Regulations of 2004 came into effect, the number of tribunals has grown threefold and Tribunal Service figures last week showed a 43% rise in claims in the past 12 months alone.

Employees will no longer be able to make claims against their employer for not following proper procedure. Instead, a new Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures sets out guidelines that can be used to decide action on issues such as misconduct and poor performance as well as employee complaints. It is based on broad principles of fairness rather than prescriptive rules - encouraging resolution without the need to go to tribunal. If the dispute does go all the way, tribunals will be able to use reason to decide how far employers have adhered to these guidelines. They will also have the discretion to adjust awards up or down - up to a total of 25% in relation to either party.

Finally, then, we have some common sense. How many employers have dismissed someone for justifiable performance reasons (poor time-keeping, discrimination, failure to hit targets etc) only to find themselves in the dock defending a minor point of procedure? Not only is this a long drawn-out process, it also causes bad feeling back in the workplace.

Indeed, so joyous will employers be at the death of the Dispute Resolution Regulations, they may let their guard down. Note that the code is more detailed than existing procedures and there are some new opportunities for employees to seek adjustments to awards - for example, there is now a right to be accompanied by a colleague or union representative.

With redundancies on the rise, there is unlikely to be a reduction in employee grievances. So let's hope the new mediation-focused approach works for both parties, and delivers what McDonald's senior vice president/chief people officer David Fairhurst calls a "non-toxic outcome" to one of the most poisonous areas of employment law.

Siân Harrington is editor of Human Resources.