- This month we’re blogging about employment law, and what a time it’s been for the topic. Major features of the rules and systems for resolving employment disputes have been altered over recent years, in turn causing a rift in opinion.
- In this week’s blog I’m going to look at changes to the tribunal system; starting with fees.
Following the introduction of fees, another big variation to the system of employment justice has been the introduction of ‘early conciliation’ by Acas in April this year. In short, this now means that employees intending to make a claim to a tribunal must now notify Acas first, who will offer them the chance to settle the dispute without going to court. The first quarterly update on this initiative released by the dispute resolution body this month shows that over 17,000 people have used the new service since it was introduced.
Looking at both these changes together, one could reasonably suggest that all this will surely lead to a drop in tribunal claims, with employees being rightly or wrongly more inclined to settle outside of court. Recent data from the Ministry of Justice backs this up, after revealing a 71% drop in tribunal claims during the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.
On the face of it, herding employees and employers into an early and relatively quick resolution to any problems that have arisen at work has obvious attractions. Both parties can move on without protracted and expensive litigation. In fact, only a small proportion of people do not attempt some sort of resolution at this stage, with Acas figures showing that of the 16,605 employee notifications received in the first quarter of the scheme’s operation, just 1,122 were from people unwilling to engage in conciliation.
However, workers may agree to conciliation without really knowing what their claim is worth. They may not have not taken legal advice, and may not articulate their claim properly or indeed appreciate whether it has any merit.
Employers, for their part, may have little incentive to settle claims at this stage since potential claimants are not required to spell out precisely all the claims they are thinking of lodging before a tribunal, and even when they do, it may not be clear what legal claims they are making. If a claim of ‘bullying and harassment’ is made, it may not be clear whether this is this a claim under the Equality Act and, if so, what protected characteristic (gender, disability, etc…) they are relying on.
The law is ever changing and flowing, and a job for us mortal HR professionals to keep up with! The changes to tribunals are suggesting that employees are now more inclined to reach a settlement with their employer rather than face a full tribunal. While this is good news for employers, the law of unintended consequences mean that there may also continue to be pitfalls in the system.