Category Archives: employment tribunal claim

Employment Tribunal Fees Unlawful

Breaking news today from the Supreme Court, who have decided that employment tribunal fees introduced in July 2013 are unlawful as they prevented access to justice and breached UK and EU law.

The case was taken to the Supreme Court ultimately by Unison who have fought this long and hard, but now successful battle.  Many of the employees who have paid fees to take their employer to tribunal will now need to be refunded.  The government will have to now pay out a whopping £27 million.  Before July 2013 employees could take their employer to a tribunal without charge, but this changed in 2013 when fees topping £1200 were introduced for claims related to unfair dismissal and discrimination.  This has lead to a dramatic decrease in the number of claims being lodged – 78% in three years.  The reduction has probably been due to a lack of affordability by many employees unable to do anything about any potential unfair illegal treatment at work.  If someone was unfairly dismissed they would more than likely not have the funds to take a claim having lost their job and income.  This would be particularly relevant to employees with a with low or middle income.

Time will tell how the government will tackle the need to make changes.  Whilst the Supreme Court has indicated employment tribunals should be free, tribunal fees may not be completely abolished but may perhaps be vastly reduced.  The government will probably organise a consultation exercise before implementing any changes to fees.

In July 2013 the government introduced a mandatory one month ACAS conciliation period which has helped to resolve approximately 90% of cases without going to an employment tribunal.  This process will probably still be retained as it appears to have been very successful in helping to reduce the thousands and thousands of claims that used to swamp the employment tribunal system.

Nevertheless, it seems that this barrier to justice will now be removed so law-breaking employers should beware.

The Changing Face of The Employment Tribunal

I recently represented a claimant case in Nottingham employment tribunal.  The claimant waiting room was eerily quiet being empty when we walked in.  This was compared to sixteen months earlier when I had represented another claim there and the room had been packed out.   My latest case lasted three days and during that time we hardly saw any other claimants and  representatives in the waiting room.   The case ran over and the judge had to assign another day so the remaining witnesses could be cross examined, representations could be made and the verdict decided upon.  He reluctantly did this saying the government had cut back his sitting days dramatically.  This seems to be the shape of things to come.

On Monday 29 July under the The Employment Tribunals(Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013 the government introduces tribunal fees for claimants wishing to lodge a claim and then to request a hearing.  The last day, therefore, for bringing a fee-free employment tribunal claim will be by 4pm on Friday 26 July.  Any claims already in the system will not attract fees.

Following the introduction of the fee system the fees will be repaid to the claimant if they win.

Type A claims (including unlawful deductions, notice pay, equal pay and redundancy pay) will cost £160 to lodge the claim, with a £230 hearing fee; and

Type B claims (including unfair dismissal and discrimination) will cost £250 to lodge the claim and a £950 hearing fee.

Appeals will cost up to £1,600. Witnesses’ expenses will no longer be paid.

Fees will be either paid online via credit or debit card or by cheque or postal order.

There will also be a fee remission system, which will attempt to ensure that access to justice is not reduced through the introduction of tribunal fees. This will apply to individuals in receipt of certain benefits or who have a disposable monthly income below a certain level. The income of a claimant’s partner will be taken into account though when determining whether a fee remission is given.

The potential cost of losing an employment tribunal will rise to £20,000 which will further discourage claims.  Tribunals are increasingly awarding costs to the losing party which will further discourage claims being brought.

Employment tribunals were introduced in the early 1970s by a Tory government as a way of preventing strikes over unfair dismissals and workplace injustices. Tribunals can award compensation, but cannot force an employer to take back a worker judged unfairly dismissed.  With the changes to the employment tribunal system it seems that rogue bosses will once again have the upper hand and claimants will have to think twice about the implications of lodging a claim.

The unions are already pitting their wits against the government claiming it is unlawful to deny citizens the right to take a free claim in pursuance of their employment rights.  The fee structure law will be implemented on 29 July, but if the unions win in court the fees will be refunded.

Is the Introduction of "Fire at Will" Dismissals a Good Idea?

Osborne has just proposed the introduction of “fire at will” dismissal law that will enable small employers to dismiss staff more easily.  The employment minister Norman Lamb is unveiling plans during March which would remove restrictions on laying off staff at businesses with fewer than ten employees.  It is proposed that poorly performing employees are laid off whilst the employer can recruit staff who will perform more effectively. It is claimed that current rules allow employees to “coast along” without management action.  The proposal is designed to support the “cutting the red tape challenge” and increase employment.  However, the latter is debateable whether employment legislation is contributing to increasing unemployment.
There are plenty of employers in the UK that do not currently adhere to employment law and in treating their staff poorly run the risk of incurring an employment tribunal claim during which successful employees have the right to be compensated for lost employment rights.
Should the government introduce their proposal of compensated no fault dismissals, employment rights will be diminished.  The government’s proposal is underpinned by an anticipation that the value of small businesses to the economy will increase.  However the danger of changing the law to allow easier dismissals for small companies could instead backfire and scupper the government’s plans of their contribution to economic growth.
There could be many underlying reasons of poor conduct that require deeper investigation and promotes fair treatment.   If the law is changed and small businesses are allowed to operate in a “fire at will” manner, the effects on employee morale within a company could be very damaging.  Company reputation will also suffer and have a negative impact on the bottom line.  If the dismissal has a discriminatory angle employees have the right to go to an employment tribunal regardless of length of service adding to costs.
Poor performance, regardless of company size, is easy to manage through a fair process of monitoring and support.  Practical advice can easily be sought from an HR practitioner. 
    
The government needs to carefully think about the introduction of such a proposal. Coupled with their firm intention to introduce fees for claimants to lodge an employment tribunal claim, access to employment rights for many down trodden workers will be, all but, practically removed.  This will mean going back to before the beginning of the 20th century when protection for worker rights began and will not be good for the future.