Fiona Church

Fiona Church

By Professor Fiona Church, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education, Law and Social Sciences

New rules introduced today bring in charges of up to £250 to lodge a claim at the employment tribunal, rising to a maximum of £950 if the case goes ahead.

The government is promoting this as a positive move to help employers avoid unfounded or speculative claims that they feel obliged to defend and which use up management time and cost businesses, particularly SMEs, expensive legal fees they can ill afford. It is also hoped that the new fees will also speed up the process of ‘genuine’ cases through the overcrowded tribunal system. It should be noted in responding to this –that there is already provision in place to penalise those bringing frivolous claims by the award of costs and pre-hearing reviews are supposed to advise claimants to drop cases with no real foundation.

Employer’s associations such as the CBI and Federation of Small Businesses have welcomed the move.

Others, myself included, feel that this is a backwards step in providing justice for employees who have real issues with their employer. Unions, including Unite and the GMB have come out strongly against the implementation of fees – claiming that it will prevent justified claims from getting to the tribunal.

Those most vulnerable – women, part-time workers and other protected groups may find this particularly difficult. If you have been on a low wage, are receiving statutory maternity pay, or have actually lost your job – it will not be easy to find the fees. Although there is provision for fee waiver in cases of hardship – it is not clear how this will operate.

In particular the up-front charges for harassment and discrimination cases are likely to prevent employers from being called to task for bad behaviour  – when harassment or discrimination takes place the tribunal is sometimes the only resort for the victim if such behaviour is systemic within an organisation.

The legal community are not convinced that the fee will prevent speculative claims – indeed there is comment that small settlement claims may well rise and there may also be disputes over fee payment deadlines and the amount of costs.

Should the claimant win their case – they can ask for costs to be refunded. However, the up-front payment may well deter people with genuine grievances from taking their case forward.

When this recent development is linked to other changes in the law – such as increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from one to two years and reduction in the consultation period for collective redundancy, this does not look like the actions of a government keen to ensure access to justice where employers act unfairly.

The following two tabs change content below.
Fiona Church

Fiona Church

Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education, Law and Social Sciences