It is hardly a shock, any disgruntled employee can quickly get over the low hurdle of the ACAS preclaim conciliation requirement and then lodge a claim which forces the employer to pay up to avoid costly and time consuming litigation or to accept the risk and go forward to a tribunal.
Long-awaited statistics on employment tribunals in England and Wales have found that the overall number of claims rose 66% in the three months after fees were abolished in July.
Employment law experts have warned organisations to scrutinise their employment practices in light of the 14th December 2017 figures, published by the Courts Service, which revealed that the tribunals’ outstanding caseload also rose 37% after London’s Supreme Court found employment tribunal fees unlawful in July.This means claims when they go to tribunal are taking longer to come to court with the uncertainty hanging over the employer.
Following the ruling, the Ministry of Justice “took immediate steps” to stop charging fees for tribunals, and put in place a fee refund scheme for claimants who had paid fees between 2013 and 2017, since the first introduction of such fees.
However, Lord Chancellor, David Lidington, confirmed during a justice select committee meeting last month that the government was still intending to charge a fee, but it needed to be careful to ensure tribunals were still accessible and affordable which means given the government’s other issues it will take some time to implement a new fee structure.
The number of employment tribunals brought after fees were introduced had dropped by as much as 70%, meaning that claims may be gradually approaching pre-fee levels. The number of claims rose from 4,241 between April and June last year, before the ruling, to 7,042 in July to October. In the year from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017, however, a total of 88,476 tribunal applications were made, up from 83,031 the previous year, and rising again from 61,308 in 2014-15. But this was significantly lower than in 2013-14, before fees were introduced, when 105,803 employment tribunal claims were brought – and an even higher 191,541 total in 2012-13.
These statistics bear out the scale of this trend – clearly the introduction of employment tribunal fees had the intended effect of dissuading employees from making claims, and their abolition has widened access to justice again The online tribunal database was also launched in early 2017.
Employers could face serious reputational consequences if they had neglected their employment practices while fees were in place.
Tribunal fees might have given employers a false sense of security, enabling some to relax their management practices on the assumption that employees wouldn't pay £1,200 to take their claims to the employment tribunal. While this was not to be recommended, these statistics bear out how urgent it is for employers to get their house in order.
Employers must not underestimate the importance of equipping line managers to handle workplace disputes following the rise in claims. With the change in policy to abolish fees, we could see even bigger increases in future, Firms should be looking at the disciplinary procedures they have in place and how closely these are being followed, to help them resolve disputes in the best way for both the employee and the employer.