The region’s employers are being warned to follow their organisation’s policies and procedures ‘to the letter’ after it was revealed that employment law tribunal claims have soared following the abolition of tribunal fees.
Recent figures published by the Ministry of Justice revealed a 90% rise in employment law tribunal claims between October and December 2017 compared with the same period in 2016, prior to the abolition of fees.
The latest statistics show that between October and December last year, 8,173 single claims were brought; an increase of 4,200 from the same period in 2016.
Lindsey Knowles, partner and employment law solicitor at Kirwans law firm, said the removal of the fees last July has driven up the number of claims lodged at employment tribunals – and will put a microscope on how diligently organisations’ own policies are followed as a result.
Tribunal fees – which ranged between £390 and £1,200 – were disposed of in July 2017 when the Supreme Court ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees in 2013.
The move, said Lindsey, means that employees who might previously have decided against bringing a case to tribunal because of the financial risk involved are now more likely to proceed with a claim.
She said: “The increased chance of legal action from wronged or disgruntled employees is a real issue for organisations.
“The backlog of claims means a prolonged period of time during which HR will have to invest valuable resources in preparing for each case, while the stress that could affect the managers involved puts businesses at real risk of losing staff to long-term sickness.”
Lindsey is urging firms to adopt the ‘prevention is better than cure’ strategy, and head-off problems before they escalate.
“From investing in staff training to ensuring they know – and put into practice – every letter of their own policies and procedures, employers simply need to behave by the book,” she said.
“This means familiarising themselves with employee contracts and making sure that managers are behaving in accordance with those.
“As unauthorised deductions from wages appear to be a particular problem for staff, employers must also ensure that wage procedures operate smoothly and effectively to avoid cash-flow issues for employees.”
According to Lindsey, the most important factor in reducing the chance of claims being brought against a business is to ensure good communication channels between employer and employee.
“If staff feel they are appreciated and that their voices are heard, there’s a good chance they’ll want to stay in that organisation,” she said.
“Employers need to make sure they’re aware of any staff issues and that they’re dealt with quickly and discreetly. If employees see that their bosses are doing all they can to make things run smoothly, the risk of a claim being brought is much reduced.”