‘Frivolous’ tribunal claims rise prompts call for rapid reform

The tribunal process is fundamentally flawed and needs a complete overhaul to prevent frivolous claims that have no chance of winning from blocking up the system, HR chiefs have urged.

Employers across the private and public sector reacted angrily to new employment tribunal statistics out last week that revealed the number of claims had soared by more than 40% year-on-year, from 132,600 in 2006-07 to 189,300 in 2007-08.

Leading HR directors called for tribunal applications to be independently assessed before they reach court, in the same way that insurance firms would endorse cases, and some made renewed calls to charge claimants fees to deter those ‘chancing the system’.

David Russell, group HR director at bettings shop William Hill, told Personnel Today: “People with genuine grievances and complaints are suffering long delays as more frivolous claims clog up the system. A quick review of early documentation should allow a view to be taken on probable success or otherwise of a case.”

The HR director at charity Broadway, Helen Giles, added: “It should be compulsory for all claimants to have their cases independently assessed on paper in the same way insurance firms do.”

Giles repeated calls for tribunals to use their powers to charge claimants for lodging cases, a view backed up by Guy Pink, HR director at charity Addaction. “The government could set a fee for claimants to continue to prevent those who just tie up the system without any intention of seeing their claim through,” he said.

In April, the three-step grievance and disciplinary procedure will be scrapped to make way for a new code of practice, overseen by Acas. But Ed Sweeney, the conciliation service’s chairman, warned the new code would not necessarily lead to a reduction in claims.

“I don’t think you can just measure the success [of the code] through the amount of tribunals and whether they have gone down. Success will be if there’s an improvement in the employee relations climate, and there isn’t the angst that we had before in dealing with disputes,” he told Personnel Today.

HR practitioners agreed the code was not a ‘cure all’ to reducing tribunals lodged, accepting that responsibility for reducing claims lay with employers to mediate earlier. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development urged the government to consider making mediation a mandatory part of the tribunal process if the number of tribunal cases continued to climb.

However, Roy Mark, HR and IT director at DSGi Business, which owns the business arm of PC World, said: “If there is a lesson to learn, it is to minimise anything being mandatory. The danger is that delays would occur and that we would end up just going through the motions as we do now before getting to a tribunal.”

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