The number of cases brought to employment tribunals rose sharply last year, according to figures published by the Tribunals Service.
More than 130,000 people lodged a claim during the 12 months to 1 April 2007 – up 15% on the previous year’s 115,000 claims, which in turn was up a massive 33% from 86,181 claims in 2004-05.
And due to the fact that many claims involve more than one jurisdiction (ground for complaint), there were a total of 238,546 claims during the year.
Six out of 10 cases brought to tribunals were multiple cases – in which a number of people bring cases against one employer on the same or very similar grounds.
Although most jurisdictions saw some small increase in the number of claims brought during 2006-07, the sharpest rise was in claims under equal pay legislation – up from 8,229 in 2004-05 to 17,266 in 2005-06, and again to 44,013 in 2006-07.
Sex discrimination claims also rose rapidly – from 11,726 in 2004-05 to £28,153.
According to the Tribunals Service, a large number of sex discrimination claims were lodged in conjunction with equal pay claims.
The single largest cause of the rapid rise in employment tribunal claims was the intervention of no-win, no-fee lawyers taking equal pay claims against public sector organisations, mostly in local government and the NHS.
The Tribunals Service has now set up two dedicated teams just to process equal pay claims from NHS staff.
…but most cases never reach a hearing
The number of employment tribunal claims brought to a conclusion also rose during 2006-07 – up 19% from 86,083 to 102,597, the Tribunals Service said.
Most claims are either withdrawn at an early stage (31%) or a conciliated settlement is reached with the help of conciliation service Acas (24%). A further one in four claims are struck out before they are heard (21%) or dismissed at a preliminary hearing (2%).
However, those claims that do finally make it all the way to a hearing and judgment are twice as likely to end in favour of the claimant (21,816 claims, or 12% of all claims) than of the employer (11,022 or 6%).
The figures show wide variations in how claims under different types of discrimination fare. Just 11% of working time claims are withdrawn before a hearing, but this rises to nearly half (48%) of sex discrimination claims and six out of 10 equal pay claims.
Similarly, just 2% of sex discrimination and equal pay claims made it through the process to a full tribunal hearing and were successful, compared with 31% of claims relating to redundancy pay.
…and compensation is relatively modest
More than half (59%) of all compensation awards in cases involving unfair dismissal were for less than £5,000 last year.
Tribunals Service statistics show that although the highest payout for unfair dismissal was a massive £250,470, the median award (the one at the mid-point in the range of all awards) was for just £3,800.
Figures for tribunal awards under other jurisdictions show a similar pattern, with a few very high awards at the top end of the scale, but most payouts at considerably lower levels.
Tribunals ordered median compensation awards of £7,000 for race discrimination, £6,724 for sex discrimination, and £8,232 for disability discrimination.