The opinion article from Susan Anderson, director of HR policy at the CBI, on proposed reforms to the tribunal system (‘Tribunal system must be overhauled to exclude weak and vexatious claims’, Personnel Today, 27 February) prompted a stream of responses. Here’s a selection of the tribunal experiences you chose to share with us, and how you think the system could be improved.
Dice are loaded against the employer in dismissal cases
I fully support the idea of awarding costs against unsuccessful claimants, to balance the element of risk between both parties. Perhaps employers could also be reimbursed any company sick pay the employee may have received while disciplinary proceedings were delayed by the employee’s absence.
Employers could do more to encourage forgiveness and reconciliation within the workplace. We have plenty of policies to facilitate complaints, grievances or disciplinaries, but how many organisations have policies on finding ways to get over their difficulties and rebuild relationships?
It seems unfair that an employee can take offence after just one upsetting incident at work, and claim constructive dismissal. Everybody experiences occasional upsets at work, but the more resilient/forgiving people will get over the issue and move on, while the more sensitive people will throw in the towel immediately.
Perhaps we could reduce the scope for constructive dismissal claims to those employees who can demonstrate that they have actively tried a reconciliation period with their employer, and where they have worked a minimum of one month after the upsetting incident – thereby stopping claims from people who simply walk out when things don’t go their way.
Annually, discrimination claims total less than unfair dismissal claims, yet the individual awards are higher and I’ve never really understood why. Surely the injustice of being unfairly dismissed is equally as unpleasant as being treated less favourably because of pregnancy, for example.
Is it time for the ‘scare factor’ of potentially unlimited awards against employers who discriminate to be removed? After all, if the same ceiling for claims applied to all cases, this would be equality of treatment.
Anna Pattle, HR adviser, remuneration and benefits
Company details supplied
Backwards step shows lack of forward thinking
I have only been to one tribunal so my experience is limited. However, I was surprised that the company was required to put forward its evidence first, which seemed disjointed to me. The panel asked questions irrelevant to the issue, which would have been apparent had the complainant been required to state his claim first.
After the first session the chairman declared that he did not feel either side had a strong case – although how he could do this having only listened to witnesses from one side is beyond me. Apparently, this meant ‘go away and settle’.
It may be that we could have put our case together better, but I think the complainant’s statement should be the first thing read out to set the scope or terms of business for the hearing. This would then lead to basic documentation requirements from the company or complainant, and would make the whole process more logical.
Alison Rich, HR manager, Geo W King
Early review of evidence would end tribunal lottery
Employment laws must exist to protect employees from unfair or discriminatory treatment. However, the system seems to be overrun and capable of being abused and must be reformed.
Tribunals generally lean towards giving an employee the opportunity to state their case at a hearing. If an employer is procedurally deficient, this is deemed automatically unfair, whereas if the employee is deficient, their case is not automatically dismissed.
Tribunals should insist that the ET1 (employment tribunal claim form) and the employer’s response contain a full summary of the case, with a very early review of these documents to decide if the employer has a case to answer.
This would shift the emphasis and force the employee to persuade the tribunal they have a prima facie case. The purpose of the review would be to dismiss the obviously trivial and vexatious cases, which I believe are in danger of bringing the entire system to a standstill.
Bernard Farmer, director of development, Lepra
The letter of the law only delivers for the employee
Our recent experiences with the tribunal system tend to suggest that awarding costs against unsuccessful claimants makes perfect sense.
The first claim the tribunal accepted against the company was one of discrimination. We were making reasonable adjustments, but the tribunal did not consider or accept this and allowed the case to continue. We were convinced the case was unjust, but settled out of court due to spiralling legal fees.
The second example is of an unfair dismissal claim, which was received by the tribunal six months after the claimant’s dismissal. The tribunal allowed the claim outside the three-month timescale (accepting the claimant’s excuse that his original application was not delivered because he had failed to pay sufficient postage). Yet, if we provided the same reason for late submission of our defence, this would have been thrown out.
This particular claimant says the company treated him differently to other people by not terminating their employment while terminating his. This argument does not come under any discrimination banner, but the tribunal has accepted the claim.
Despite operating exactly to the letter of employment law procedures, this has not made any difference. We are, understandably, totally confused and dismayed at the tribunal system.
The directors, Roman Ltd