A major update to the UK employment tribunal system comes into force in December 2020 that could help to speed up employee claims.
But what are the new rules, and how will they affect your business? Read on to find out.
Clearing the tribunal backlog
In the first quarter of 2020/21, single tribunal claims went up 18% compared to the same quarter in 2019.
This surge in claims, plus difficulties in holding in-person hearings during COVID-19, has led to a major backlog and delay in tribunal cases.
For example, in some areas of the UK, ordinary unfair dismissal claims have already been pushed back well into next year.
The changes aim to help overcome the backlog by making the tribunal system more efficient. They may also make it a little easier for employees to submit claims.
Tribunal changes explained
Some of the updates to the tribunal system came into force as of the 8th of October 2020. These include changes that:
- Permit a wider range of judges to give verdicts on tribunal cases, including high court judges, circuit judges and deputy judges.
- Give legal officers more power to accept or dismiss claims.
- Allow multiple people to make a claim using the same employment tribunal forms.
- Loosen the rules around ‘public hearings’. That means more cases can be heard through video conferences.
From the 1st of December, further changes to legislation will:
- Extend the minimum ‘early conciliation’ period from one month to six weeks. This will give both parties more time to negotiate an agreement before the case is heard by a judge.
- Prevent claims from being rejected due to claimants providing the wrong early conciliation numbers.
What do the employment tribunal rules mean for me?
The most important take away probably isn’t the new rules themselves. It’s why they’re being made.
The tribunal backlog has gotten worse in part due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has forced employers across the country to make tough decisions for their workers.
In particular, redundancies have surged across the UK, with some predicting that up to a million people could lose their jobs in 2020.
Of course, dismissing staff doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up in a tribunal. But it is true that redundancy is complicated. Failure to follow the right process could put you at risk of costly unfair dismissal claims.
Plus, with some tribunal claims now expected to take much longer than usual to resolve, many employers may need to retain their lawyers and build up legal fees in the process.
How to protect yourself from claims
Now more than ever, employers should follow watertight procedures when managing their staff. Crucially, any decision to dismiss an employee must follow a fair process and be reasonable.
It’s also important to remember that employment law stretches much further than just protecting employees from unfair dismissal.
For example, in the 12 months from April 2019 to March 2020, the highest sum awarded at an employment tribunal was £266,000 for a disability discrimination claim.
Employers should therefore make sure they follow core HR practices through the pandemic. This includes maintaining equality and diversity policies and meeting legal obligations towards disabled staff.
Enjoy expert HR support
If you’re a Peninsula client, then you have access to 24/7 HR and employment law advice to help keep you on the right side of the law and reduce your risk of tribunal claims.
So, if you want to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, or if you’re worried about your legal risk when making tough HR choices for your staff, please call your Peninsula advice team today.