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Dramatic fall in employment tribunal claims – is that a good thing?

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Now you may think that’s a strange question.  Of course it’s a good thing that we’ve seen a dramatic fall in employment tribunal claims.  Isn’t it?

When I say dramatic fall, I mean that the Ministry of Justice official statistics show 79% fewer claims in the period from October to December 2013 versus the same period in 2012.  I think that justifies the rather sensationalist use of the word “dramatic”, don’t you?

The biggest single contributory factor to the fall in tribunal claims is the introduction of fees which came in one year ago this week.  For the last year, anyone who wants to take a claim against their employer or ex-employer has to pay to do so.  Of course, at least a proportion of those claims would have been vexatious.  Vexatious claims take time and resource to manage so o clearly, eliminating those types of claims can only be a good thing from everyone’s point of view.

The really worrying part of all this is that vexatious claims cannot account for the total number of claims that have not been brought.  So that means that a good number of otherwise genuine claims have not been brought and that brings me to the point.  Has the introduction of tribunal fees actually limited the access to justice for workers in the UK?

It would certainly seem that way.  My concern is not only for workers themselves but also for employers and their HR Managers or Consultants.  If the threat of a claim was one of the main reasons why an employer ensured they were adhering to the letter of the law, then the fact that the threat is reduced could mean that employers reject the recommendations of their HR Advisors who attempt to keep them “on the straight and narrow”.  In fact, this could even mean that the desire to consult and take advice is affected.  After all, if the risk of a claim isn’t as significant as it once was, what’s the point of knowing the right way to handle a situation or deal with an issue?

I think that the introduction of tribunal fees has been a good thing in terms of reducing vexatious claims but the very fact that it’s deterred genuine claimants and affected an employer’s desire to treat their employees fairly and in line with statutory requirements means that it cannot and should not be celebrated.

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