The Ministry of Justice has published its provisional Employment Tribunal statistics for October to December 2017: a significant period as it directly follows the abolishment of Tribunal Fees Regime following the Supreme Court’s judgment last July (the consequence of this being that claimants can now issue proceedings without incurring any Tribunal fees).
Key figures of interest to employers are:
- Individual claims issued in the Employment Tribunal have increased by 90%.
- Individual claims disposed of have increased by 21%.
- The backlog of individual claims has risen by 66%.
These statistics show that numbers of claims being brought have soared since the abolition of the fees regime and suggest, at least anecdotally, that the Supreme Court's decision last year has reopened the doors to prospective claimants across the country who otherwise wouldn’t have been able or willing to pay to issue a claim under the former fee regime.
Impact on the Tribunal system
The sudden surge in new or reignited claims means that the Tribunal Service will need to adapt rapidly to the sudden increase in administrative demand being placed upon it. The Ministry of Justice reduced the number of Tribunal staff following the introduction of the fees regime, in anticipation of the resultant lower levels of claims being made. The Tribunal is still operating with lower levels of staff and administrative resource, despite the recent surge in claims. This will clearly result in delays and overall inefficiently.
As practitioners, we are seeing delays in correspondence being received and dealt with in respect of claims. There have also been reports of hearing dates being cancelled at late notice due to this backlog. All in all, this means that those involved in ongoing proceedings should be prepared for “bumps in the road” and not be too shocked if deadlines get shifted and hearing dates rescheduled. We anticipate that this current resourcing issue may get worse in the short term. It is hoped that the government will initiate a recruitment drive to better equip the service to process the high levels of claims coming through.
Considerations for employers
Employers should be alerted to the risk of a potential increase in claims against them, which may also include evidentially weaker or even spurious claims, which nonetheless require a response once issued. As mentioned, the current administrative backlog within the Tribunal service should be a factor for consideration when deciding on a case strategy. For example, hearing dates may be postponed, will this incentivise your organisation to settle a dispute? Possibly so, where such delays are likely to increase legal costs and further drain organisational resource away from daily business matters.
It is always advisable to have robust employment policies and procedures in place for dealing with workplace disputes that may arise with staff and even more crucially, that your managers are trained to implement these consistently. If there is an issue with an employee, don’t “sweep it under the rug”. Addressing the issue early on should facilitate a swifter solution and also help demonstrate that you are being a responsible employer by taking a proactive and collaborative approach to resolution. This may entail having a difficult conversation with an employee. While instinctively we often shy away from these, HR should feel equipped to step in when issues come to light.
Ultimately, the risk of a claim can be pre-empted by taking action early on, which may include legal advice - particularly if there are concerns that grounds for a claim may exist. Being as pro-active as possible really can help avoid the reputational and financial damage that these disputes so often cause.
As a final note, please remember that time is ticking on the following issues:
- Gender Pay Gap Reports
If you are an employer with 250+ employees that is affected by Gender pay gap reporting, with a report due on 4 April 2018, we can prepare your Gender pay gap report for you. Please contact Claire Taylor-Evans or the Employment team on 0118 952 7284 for further information.
- GDPR advice and Toolkit
We can also help you get GDPR ready – be it in relation to employment-related data or commercial client information.
- Training and awareness – we are training clients and wider employee populations on the implications of GDPR. Be it face-to- face update sessions or eLearning modules, we have the training to suit you. There are potential directors liabilities being introduced under the Data Protection Bill so there is a real need for Boards to know about these changes.
- Contracts, policies and Privacy Notices – we have produced an Employment Data Protection Toolkit for Employees and Workers with a suite of GDPR ready documents. Sounds simple…it is! For information about our Toolkit, email us.
- Third party processors – we are negotiating terms with third party processors to ensure they are compliant. Can we do this for your organisation?
- Risk analysis and data audits – let us find out where your data protection risks are.
- Ad hoc support and advice – let us answer your GDPR questions.
If you would like to discuss any of the above in more detail or how we may help you, please do not hesitate to contact the Employment team on 0118 952 7284.
A full list of our training events, conferences and webinars can be found here.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.