Talk about a sledgehammer cracking a nut. Employment lawyers were yesterday pondering the news that individual employment tribunal claims had fallen by 63% in the latest reporting period. The drop must be attributed to the new punishing fees regime which sees employees required to fork out up to £1200 to bring an unfair dismissal claim to hearing, even if the claim itself is only worth a few thousand. Even those with bang-to-rights claims on unpaid wages and holiday entitlements are likely to be discouraged from pursuing their genuine entitlements when they have to pay £510 for the privilege of doing so.
So can employers simply breathe a sigh of relief and take the legal advisers off speed dial? The answer is no for these reasons:
1.Productive happy workplaces need to be fair. Rights to claim may come and go, but workplace tensions and disputes will be around forever, causing loss of productivity among staff and major management headaches. Working with employers “upstream” on HR issues over the last year, I have been struck by how rarely “potential tribunal claim” is the primary reason for wanting advice on how to address an issue. It’s nearly always about getting an issue resolved so everyone can get back to work.
2. Many of the claims that have gone were not the ones that employers had to worry about. Weak unfair dismissal claims were the bane of the previous system. Individuals with good, valuable claims where employees are represented by solicitors, will continue to pursue claims. And the very expensive discrimination and whistleblowing claims often arise out of a management culture of doing nothing to address workplace behaviours when they arise.
3. Employers will now face penalties where they breach employees’ minimum statutory rights.
We reckon the need for good, early employment law advice is as pressing as ever.