How to understand the risks of a tribunal claim

 How can HR professionals minimise the chances of facing an employment tribunal claim? Andy Shettle reports

Most companies, at one time or another, will experience the tribunal process. For many, the ideal scenario is for employment disputes to be internally managed or mediated through the Acas Early Conciliation process, although sometimes an employment tribunal is the only way to resolve matters. However, they can be expensive and the British Chambers of Commerce estimates that UK businesses can face bills of up to £8,500 when defending themselves. 

Additionally, a ruling by the Supreme Court has made it easier for employees to engage in the employment tribunal process. With employment tribunal fees classed as preventing access to justice, employees no longer foot the bill when putting forward a tribunal claim. 

While this has come as a great relief for those who have been treated unfairly at work, it does raise concern for employers. With recently released figures showing an increase of 90 per cent in the number of single claims lodged at employment tribunal, there is a real need for increased awareness around the correct procedures to follow when dismissing individuals.  

Stepping away from the nine to five

The employment landscape has changed dramatically over the past year and the use of the gig economy is still somewhat of an unknown entity when it comes to employment rights. A few months ago, a landmark case was won at the Supreme Court in a dispute between Pimlico Plumbers and a former engineer. 

The case has argued the entitlements of the ‘casual worker’ and the ruling has the potential to impact the rights of many people classified as independent contractors across the UK, including those at gig economy firms such as Uber and Deliveroo. As freelance workers now make up 15 per cent of the UK workforce, the Office of National Statistics suggests it’s a trend which is set to grow.

With a shift away from zero hours contracts, we’re seeing a move towards the use of employment contracts. This provides ‘casual workers’ with an employee status and an entitlement to claim for unfair dismissal, redundancy payments, maternity pay and leave. With this in mind, many small and medium sized businesses will need to ensure employee relations cases are well documented, managed effectively and policies adhered to. 

While the removal of the tribunal fee does make it easier for claims to be made, it’s important for employers to be mindful of the decisions they make and prepared for the fact that those which prove unpopular could result in legal action. 

Warning of employment tribunal claims 

Preparing for a tribunal can be extremely time-consuming and often has a big impact on the business. It’s important to regularly review employment policies and keep them centrally stored; having information readily available ensures that procedures are being followed – which minimises the risk of employees successfully challenging actions such as dismissal. 

Additionally, introducing an online HR system is a good way to track employee relations cases and incorporate policies and procedures. It also reduces the amount of paper-based processes, which streamlines operations and allows users to track and monitor time frames, ensuring they’re observed and met. This could, in some cases, even reduce the risk of going to an employment tribunal in the first place. 

We all know that prevention is better than cure, so develop a culture of conversation among employees. It can be a great first line of defence – if employees feel they’re able to raise concerns without the fear of reprisals, managers are able to mediate situations and combat issues before they escalate into a formal complaint. 

Andy Shettle is chief product officer at Selenity