Increased legislation and higher levels of compensation are causing a sharp rise in the number of tribunals brought against employers.
The Engineering Employers' Federation announced last week that it handled almost one-third more cases in 1999, on behalf of employers, than it did the previous year.
The number of discrimination claims went up by nearly 22 per cent.
The greatest increase was in disability discrimination claims, which went up by 38 per cent between 1998 and 1999.
Compensation levels rose too with tribunals awarding more than £10,500 in half of all discrimination cases. Only a third won awards of this level in 1998.
Awards for injury to feeling averaged at £5,231, compared to £2,916 in 1998.
Richard Linskell, legal adviser at the federation, said cases are becoming more complex as employees make claims under several different laws at the same time.
"Whereas basic unfair dismissal claims were the norm, they now frequently include two or more separate claims, such as discrimination and breach of contract," Linskell said. "The more claims that companies have to deal with the more effort they have to put into defending them and the longer tribunal hearings last.
"This is a significant added burden which distracts managers' attention away from running businesses at a time when they are under great competitive pressure."
Anne Minto, HR director at Smiths Industries, said the increase in damages means there is more at stake for both sides, making it harder to sit down and resolve the problem.
"This is an extremely taxing time for HR. Tribunals used to be much less formal, but few go ahead now without lawyers and an extremely experienced HR person involved."
She added that there is unlikely to be a let up in the trend.
"Employers just have to accept that we live in a much more litigious society. We just have to make sure we understand what is in the legislation, that policies are kept up to date and that clear direction is given to the line managers who have to deal with it."