On 26th July of this year the Supreme Court found in favour of the trade union Unison’s challenge, that the introduction of employment tribunal fees in 2013 was unlawful. Unison claimed successfully that fees ranging from £160 to £1,200 per claim prevented thousands of employees, particularly those on low income, from getting justice.
Specifically, the Supreme Court ruled that tribunal fees act as a deterrent to lower value claims or non-monetary claims and the current level of fee bore no direct relation to the value of the claim, unlike court fees.
Additionally, it found that some of the fees were discriminatory against women under the Equality Act 2010 due to the fact that claims requiring higher fees, like sex discrimination claims, are mostly brought by women.
The government was therefore forced to stop charging any fees for starting Employment Tribunal or Employment Appeal Tribunal cases from 26th July.
What does this mean for small businesses?
The immediate consequence of this is that a disgruntled employee can now bring a claim against their employer without having to pay anything up front in an Employment Tribunal or consider bringing an appeal against a previous decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal without initial fee.
It is therefore simpler and cheaper and much more attractive.
The government may seek to introduce a new system of lower fees, but that will take time and consultation, so,for now, your chances of having a claim brought against you as an employer, whether justifiable or not, have significantly increased.
It is very likely that the overall level of claims will rise significantly. There may well also be a spike of new claims being issued, which would otherwise be time barred, if the employee can establish that they would have brought the claim in the last four years but for the existence of the tribunal fee.
The government will also need to find a way of repaying all those who have paid the fees to bring a claim in the last four years.
What should you do?
Now it’s more important than ever to make sure that all matters involving your employees, including grievance, sickness and disciplinary are conducted carefully and to the letter of your internal procedures and the law.
We are not saying this to scare you, it has always been important to conduct HR matters in accordance with employment law. But if there are any areas where you feel you may have been lax or not running as tight a ship as needed, now is the time to sharpen up.
You also need to be prepared for possible claims from employees or former employees who may have unresolved grievances from the last four years. It is worth making sure that your records are complete in relation to any previous disputes.
If you have any worries or concerns about the possibility of facing a claim, we urge you to seek advice from qualified HR professionals. Don’t let things fester or get out of control. A tribunal case can ruin your reputation, and your business.
You can get in touch with one of our friendly, qualified HR consultants today on 0333 444 0165 to find out how CitrusHR can help protect your business.