The long-term impact of tribunal fees on workplace relationships

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The introduction of tribunal fees, which came into effect on 29 July 2013, has certainly launched a shot across the bow for all those involved with and/or interested in the concept of employment equity within the UK.

The Ministry of Justice recently reported that claims have decreased by some 79% from the comparative quarter. So what are the burning issues for the employment relationship over the rest of this Government’s term? What long-term impact will it have for those of us involved in maintaining workplace relationships?

Fewer but more determined claimants

From my perspective as former HR practitioner, a current serving member of the Employment Tribunal and as an academic involved in the professional education of would-be HR practitioners, there is a lot to be said about the changing landscape.

For employers, the initial thought is that episodes of litigation will decrease and the power base of the employer will rapidly expand. This seems logical against the backdrop of a still shaky economy and following the introduction of the two-year service requirement for unfair dismissal in 2012.

The reality of the latter was that actual claims of unfair dismissal only dropped by 3000 cases per year, by ACAS’ estimations, and those claimants with cases of discrimination are largely unaffected. The introduction of fees may have gone some way to stem frivolous or vexatious claims, but those who have pursued their cause do so with more determination than ever. 

For the claimant, gaining legal representation within this context, either from their union or through private means, can be a challenging task. Both would need to be entirely convinced that the case is worth fighting for and has a substantial chance of winning. If the claimant wishes to go it alone, the thought of taking on a corporate giant can be petrifying.

Education and empowerment key

For tribunal members, the decline of cases, alongside the increase of powers for employment judges to sit alone on cases, has meant that full tribunal hearings with members have vastly diminished.  The cases that require a full panel tend to be longer cases and more complex with multiple heads of claim. While this is good personal development for those employment members who manage to be allocated such cases, for others, like myself, getting time out of work to fulfil statutory duties is increasingly difficult.

So what is the future of equality and workplace relations now? I believe that cases will be fought more fervently, will be increasingly lengthier and employer-employee relationships more tentative. 

In the midst of this, we must remember those within our society who will not have the resources or the confidence to take forward a genuine case at all. Academics like me must educate future HR practitioners in the art of equal treatment and justice. We should be empowering them to ensure that they have the skills to balance the demands of the employment relationship with the challenging business environment in which they operate.

Marcia Hazzard is the head of the HR & organisational behaviour department at Greenwich School of Management

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