Frivolous claims will ruin tribunal system

The dramatic rise in the number of employment tribunal cases against employers makes stark reading for HR professionals.

The figures from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service show a 27 per cent jump in a year between May 1999 and May 2000 in individual actions from staff challenging unfair dismissals, breaches of contracts and claiming race discrimination.

When the detail is released at the end of next month in the Acas annual report it will not bring any smiles to the faces of HR managers. In fact it just sets out what everyone knows is happening on the ground – employers are being held to ransom by staff testing how much cash they can extract from the tribunal system.

These official statistics confirm what employers and legal experts have been predicting since the Employment Relations Act came into force last October with the rise in maximum payouts to £50,000 for unfair dismissals and the shortening of the qualifying period from two years to one. Now the figures are showing that all the warnings that were made at the time were completely justified.

As letters from readers to Personnel Today have shown (18 July), HR professionals are sick of having to leave aside their day-to-day work and spend valuable time defending what many see as timewasting cases. The cost to business of the endless preparation and days lost as they attend tribunal hearings has not been calculated but it might be a worthwhile exercise for the CBI.

The problem is not going to get better and it is time for action. Fine, the Government cannot stop individuals from making claims, but it can deter them by ensuring those taking frivolous claims incur a heavy fine.

The DTI and the Lord Chancellor’s department are looking at the tribunal system at the moment – perhaps a sign of the seriousness of the problem if two government departments are reviewing it.

So surely something can be done to weed out the number of weak claims going to tribunal without making sure that genuine claims do have a fair access to justice. Otherwise there will be complete legal chaos in the tribunal system as the already creaking system grinds to a complete halt.

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