Last July the government introduced fees for employees who want to take their employer to an employment tribunal in England & Wales if they felt they had been unfairly treated or discriminated against. This new measure was brought in to deter spurious claims with no substance, but many people felt these new fees would instead stifle the rights of employees and strengthen those of employers.
Unison went so far as to take the case to the High Court with a Judicial Review on whether this would stop people having access to justice if they had been unfairly treated by their employer. The High Court agreed with Unison and the arguments they presented, however the Judicial Review failed. The judges decided that they were currently unable to discern the full impact of these fees on access to justice as they have only been in place for a short period time.
In the meantime, it is clear from a recent survey of 180 businesses that there has been a fall in the number of claims. Nearly half of the firms surveyed confirmed they had seen a drop in employment tribunal cases, with the biggest drop manifesting in unfair dismissal cases.
This is thought to be partly as a result of the fee structure introduced. The fees in this two tier system depends on the type of claim your employee is bringing to tribunal and how far the claim proceeds. It will cost an employee £160 to simply bring a claim against you for simple issues such as payment of wages and then a further £230 if they go all the way to a hearing. For more complex issues such as discrimination, it will cost £250 to make a claim against you and a further £950 to go to a hearing.
In addition to the introduction of fees to the tribunal system, the time period which qualifies an employee to make a claim has been extended from one year to two years for unfair dismissal and this seems to be the main reason for the reduction in this type of claim.
Unison has hinted that they will make another challenge to the High Court once they have been able to determine the real impact of these changes to employment tribunals.
Whilst there are no immediate plans to extend this regime to Northern Ireland, you should still ensure that all of your policies and procedures are up to date on the basis that prevention is better than cure.
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