Even The Best Working Relationships Can Break Down And Sometimes End In Acrimonious Divorce: What You Need To Know About Employment Tribunals In The UK.
Today employees know more about their rights than ever before and quite right too but the advent of the internet, social media, press coverage and specialist help forums provides them with a glut of information, some of which is accurate and appropriate, some of which might lead to aggressive and/or vexatious claims against your business.
What some employers viewed as a prevalence of vexatious and frivolous claims was addressed by the government who, in July 2013, aimed to put an end to such claims by introducing a £1,200 fee, since when there has been a 66% reduction in employment tribunals claims. However there are still many legitimate claims and disgruntled employees who may want to pursue their cases to court.
Employment Tribunals System Is Less Formal
Whilst it’s true that the employment tribunals system is less formal, it still carries the full legal force of other courts and therefore should be taken very seriously.
A business is placed in the unenviable position of respondent as soon as the claimant’s ET1 form is received: so it is incumbent on the business to collate documents, prepare witnesses and think about the issues in dispute for the hearing. Clearly having watertight policies and procedures is going to help you defend your business.
Employment Tribunals Claims
Regardless of merit,employment tribunals claims are potentially damaging to businesses in terms of time (which is of course ultimately profit!), money, productivity and morale.
The other challenge for business owners is that employment legislation is continuously changing and you (or your advisors) need to be well versed with tribunal practice and procedure and developments in UK employment law.
Another area of great uncertainty for a business owner to consider when faced with an employment tribunal hearing is with cost rules. Whoever represents your interests will need to be highly skilled at demonstrating whether a costs award should be made against a claimant who has unreasonably pursued a claim. This does happen; last year an employment tribunal ordered a claimant who unsuccessfully took a local authority to tribunal to pay record costs for an individual.
Dr Makanjuola took the London Borough of Waltham Forest to the tribunal with 69 different allegations of discrimination and issues resulting from protected disclosures. The council took the unusual step of applying for all its costs of defending the claim, which came to an eye-watering £117,000!
Even in circumstances where a claimant wins, you may be able to minimise the level of damages, or explain the point of law on which an appeal could be made against the tribunal decision.
Clearly it’s an area full of potential tripwires so do all you can to avoid a trip to the tribunal and if you do find yourself defending a claim, make sure you instruct a lawyer or representative with significant experience in negotiating the nuances of employment tribunals. Business owners should be concentrating on the things that they are good at – running their business – than protracted litigation.
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