The Supreme Court surprised many last month when it decided employment tribunal fees were unlawful. Statistics cited during the case revealed the number of tribunals brought had fallen by as much as 70 per cent since the charges were introduced in 2013. People Management asked employment lawyers what types of cases the courts are likely to be hearing more in the future.
Equal pay disputes
Claims surrounding equal pay are likely to increase, particularly given the attention the BBC pay report garnered along with the onset of gender pay reporting, Alan Price, employment law director at Peninsula Group, warned.
“The publication of a pay gap within a company may lead to disgruntled employees bringing a sex discrimination or equal pay claim on the basis that the report identifies they are being paid less in comparison to a colleague of the opposite gender,” he said.
“Voluntary contextual information will become more important for employers to use; providing an objective, non-discriminatory explanation for the pay gap and revealing the future steps the company will take to address this could reduce the risk of being taken to tribunal.”
Research published in March by the Young Women’s Trust found that almost one in four young mothers have experienced maternity discrimination. Such claims can prove expensive, with one mother awarded £25,000 in compensation earlier this year after a tribunal decided she had been unfairly dismissed.
“The economic reasoning behind the scrapping of fees means it makes more sense to bring a discrimination claim, particularly in areas such as maternity leave,” said Jamie Anderson, barrister at Trinity Chambers.
“It was difficult to bring maternity discrimination claims before the fees were imposed: most claimants would have been weighing up the reduced income that pursuing a claim might involve, and their personal priorities regarding their pregnancy. Now the financial barrier has been removed, it’s likely that we will see more of these claims.”
Discriminatory dress codes
A petition signed by more than 150,000 people protesting requirements for women to wear high heels in the workplace brought issues around workplace dress to national attention earlier this year. Alan Delaney, director of employment, pensions and immigration at Maclay Murray & Spens, speculated that there would be more claims brought around discriminatory dress codes.
“Non-discrimination issues around dress codes in the workplace, whether gendered issues like high heels or overly restrictive prohibitions on religious dress, have previously been shown to lead to challenge and litigation,” he said.
“People can now bring those claims without personal cost: previously, if you were hacked off about having to wear high heels at work you probably wouldn’t have paid upwards of £1,000 just to take this issue to a tribunal. Now this barrier has been scrapped, I expect we will see more cases – and high heels could well be at the forefront.”
Claims from younger workers
Michelle Landy, solicitor at Backhouse Solicitors, predicted that there would be a shift towards younger people bringing claims now fees have been scrapped. “We expect a bigger increase in claims from younger workers, as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Findings from the Survey of Employment Tribunal Applications 2013 found that 49 per cent of claimants were influenced by the requirement to pay a fee, with younger workers aged between 20 and 24 more heavily affected than those aged over 65,” she said.