Multiple-claim trend puts employers to legal test

Staff are increasingly throwing as many allegations as they can at employers
to give them the best chance of winning in tribunals.

Statistics released last week by conciliation service Acas show that while
the number of cases being brought against employers is growing, the number of
claims is growing even faster.

This means applicants are increasingly making more than one allegation at a
time, such as claiming sex discrimination and breach of contract on top of
unfair dismissal.

Figures for the year to March 2000 show that cases brought against employers
have risen by a quarter since last year to 104,000, and claims have increased
by a third to 164,525.

Francis Noonan, director of operations at Acas, said the trend is a result
of staff gaining more employment rights.

The figures come just three weeks after the Engineering Employers Federation
reported a big increase in the number of multiple claims it is handling on
behalf of its members.

Almost a third of the cases it handled in 1999 involved more than one claim
or one claimant, up from a quarter in 1998 and one in five in 1997.

"People are throwing as much mud at the target as possible in the hope
that some of it will stick," said EEF legal adviser Richard Linskell.

Consultant Colin England said the need to lodge complaints to tribunals
within three months means staff are alleging as much as possible at the outset,
in case some of the claims don’t stand up in the long term.

CBI battles for system reform

The CBI wants changes made to the tribunal system to curb the rising tide of
cases being brought against employers.

It wants the Government to step in to ensure that full hearings only take
place when there is no reasonable alternative and push the Employment Tribunal
Service to do more to discourage claims that have little chance of success.

It is recommending that weak claims are vetted at pre-hearings to stop them
getting to tribunal, that people who bring hopeless cases or hinder tribunals –
by not turning up, for example – are fined, and that cases are automatically
postponed when both sides request it.

It also wants to see the forthcoming alternative dispute resolution scheme
from Acas actively promoted and tribunal application forms changed so that
complaints are clearer at an early stage.

Launching the campaign yesterday (8 May), CBI director-general Digby Jones, said,
"Most cases are justified, but employers are rightly worried about the
sheer volume of claims, some of which are vexatious and some of which are not
best resolved through costly litigation.

"We have to show that tribunals are for administering justice, not for
playing games or having a punt for some sort of cash windfall."

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