· 1 min read · Features

Employment tribunal fees: an attack on employee rights?

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Last month saw some sweeping changes in employment law, with the introduction of employment tribunal fees.

Many employers have welcomed the changes as they say they will stop workers from making 'weak claims', but unions have criticised the move, with one calling the fees 'draconian'.

So is this move another attack on employee rights? Or will it make the whole system a lot simpler and cheaper for everyone involved?

HR magazine asked Sadie Lofthouse (pictured), head of HR at Adnams, Suffolk-based brewer, distiller and retailer, for her views:

"There will always be a small number of vexatious or misconceived claims within the workplace. Previously, the most cost-effective solution has been to settle, even when the business has acted within employment law. Not only is this incredibly frustrating for employers but it also places a significant financial and emotional burden on a business and the people within it.

Unfortunately, introducing fees is unlikely to deter this type of claimant. But it will deter those employees with valid cases, whose need for legal redress is genuine. Obtaining justice will become unaffordable for them. The outcome will be that even the most eligible are unlikely to bring a claim.

Employee rights have already been eroded over the years, with the qualifying period for unfair dismissal lengthened to two years and the halving of the consultation period for collective redundancies.

With this latest development, the fear is that disreputable employers might test the resolve of aggrieved employees by waiting to see - before attempting to resolve the dispute and avoid a claim - if the employees are prepared to pay a fee.

The Government denies that the introduction of fees is designed solely to reduce the number of tribunal claims and argues that taxpayers should not foot the bill. However, most taxpayers are, or have been, employees and would want to be able to access justice should they need to. Therefore, they should all be prepared to contribute to a fair, efficient and effective service.

The tribunal system is certainly in need of review; however, fees are not the best or fairest solution to the problem. Wealthy claimants will continue to bring weak or spurious cases against employers while those that cannot afford to will have strong cases that remain unheard."