System must protect staff and employers

Are employment tribunal claims getting out of hand? Judging by a slew of
recent evidence some organisations certainly seem to think so.

The latest figures from Acas show not only an increase in the number of
claims but also a rise in individuals taking multiple claims against an
employer. Disgruntled staff seem to be firing a string of accusations against
companies in the hope that something will stick and they will win a payout. The
engineering Employers Federation has also reported similar findings among its
members.

Of course employees have these rights absolutely enshrined in law to protect
them, and they must have recourse to take action against improper or
discriminatory action.

But this does not detract from the feeling that some employees are taking
advantage of the system. There are plenty of anecdotal stories about
"serial claimers" who take a string of cases against employer after
employer in the hope that some will settle up before reaching tribunal. It is
not surprising some companies do this even when there may be doubt about the
validity of the claim. Some firms simply don’t want their employment relations
issues made public.

This is only set to be a bigger issue in the future. As Personnel Today
reported last week a recent legal decision looks set to mean that more
information about tribunal claims will be made available pre-judgment to public
and press. This means even more scope for company reputations to be dragged
through the mud.

There is a major challenge here for HR departments to ensure their
employment practices and procedures are whiter than white or risk damaging
employee action.

With this background the CBI entered the fray last week calling for a major
review of the tribunal system. Much of what the Confederation proposes makes
sense. The idea of pre-vetting weak cases, for example, is unquestionably
sensible.

But such reform is a difficult line to walk. The system is there to protect
fundamental human rights. And it is vital that any changes must focus on
weeding out malicious claims and not be allowed to infringe the right of
employees to defend themselves against poor practice.

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