In July last year, the government introduced fees in the employment tribunal.
Previous attempts at reducing the amount of claims heading into the tribunal service didn’t have much impact. Remember the misconceived statutory disputes procedures? They had the same aim, but sent internal grievances rocketing and had little or no impact upon the overall ET picture. Then when they were repealed there was a half-hearted push on promoting internal mediation. That didn’t do much either, as I recall.
So I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure how much impact the whole fee thing would have. All the time I’ve been in HR, I’ve rarely met a claimant that didn’t absolutely believe in their claim, no matter how misguided, or lacking in legal accuracy. Many years ago, I once had a strongly worded ET claim from a male employee who felt he was being denied his right to time off for ante natal care. Enough said. Adding to this the fact that several of the major trade unions were planning to pay the upfront fee for their members, I really wasn’t sure how much of a difference it would make at all.
How wrong I was. The first full set of data is now available, showing the impact of fees in the first clear quarter. And they made very surprising reading. Claims are down 79%.
Yes, you did read that correctly. 79%.
There are probably a few cheers at the data from the HR community. From those of us in HR that have dealt with the malicious claims, the terribly costly claims, the long drawn out claims, the claimant won’t listen to ACAS claims. Claims lacking in legal basis, claims lacking in common sense. We’ve all been there.
There is another side to this, that as HR professionals we should not lose sight of. If you’re reading the HR Director magazine or blog, then I’m guessing you are a senior HR type. You might work in a big HR team. You might have good discipline in your organisation, well drafted policies and procedures. I’m hoping that you strive to do good people stuff.
There are employees out there that are very badly treated by their employers. There are employees out there that suffer harassment, discrimination, bullying. There are employees that are unfairly dismissed. That aren’t paid the national minimum wage, or they aren’t paid equally. That are denied their statutory rights.
Where do they go now? Where is their access to justice? If they don’t have a union to go to, they don’t have a strong, valued HR department to make sure things are being done properly, how will these people be heard? Be compensated?
So whilst we get a respite from nuisance claims, and our legal budget looks a little bit healthier, let us not forget that for some, access to a free employment tribunal was vital. So it might be good for a few of us, but it might not be good in general.
To muddle and mix up a quote, is it better than ten employers have to deal with a pesky ET claim than one discriminated against employee suffers?