HR fears the worst as tribunal figures leap

A massive jump in the number of employees taking their employers to tribunal has sparked fears there will be no end in sight to the soaring number of legal cases.

Individual actions by disgruntled employees against their companies have jumped by 27 per cent from 131,717 to 167,354 between May 1999 and May 2000.

The largest number of legal actions were taken to employment tribunals because of unfair dismissals, breach of contract, minimum wage and race discrimination.

CBI head of employee relations Dominic Johnson said, “With new employment rights in the near future, there is every reason to assume that tribunal claims will rise at a rapid rate unless something is done to check this trend. There are a large number of employees who are simply having a punt in the tribunal system to see how much cash they can extract.”

Figures from the Acas annual report – due out at the end of October and revealed to Personnel Today, show the number of unfair dismissal actions rose from 43,881 to 53,882 over the same period – an increase of nearly 23 per cent.

HR managers are struggling to come to terms with the dramatic rise in cases as they try to find ways to keep their companies out of court.

Sara Leslie, head of human rights and discrimination law at solicitors Irwin Mitchell, warned that the number of claims would rise further because of the £50,000 limit rule and the shortening of the qualifying period for unfair dismissal to one year.

She said, “It is inevitable after all the changes in the law. We still have a race relations Bill and an EU directive on race to come and I believe the number of claims can only increase.”

The Government is currently reviewing the tribunal system, considering the wider use of the right to charge costs and to use deposits to deter frivolous cases.

Johnson added, “We have to find ways of reducing the number of weak claims going to tribunal while ensuring genuine claims have fair access to justice.”

By Richard Staines

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