"Employment law isn’t working for anyone": HR responds

“It’s not fair to say that employment law doesn’t work for anyone," said Ciphr's chief people officer

The employment tribunal process encourages opportunists while doing nothing to tackle workplace abuse, radio presenter Libby Purves wrote in The Times last week (14 April). 

In an article titled 'Employment law isn’t working for anyone', Purves suggested that employees take advantage of the tribunal system, and that rising claims for age discrimination are “not unconnected to the fact that compensation in this area is uncapped”.

She recommended that the government improve the “intricacies and ambiguities” of employment law, and “beef up Acas”.

In 2021 the Ministry of Justice reported that employment tribunal claims were at their highest. By December 2023 though, tribunal claims had returned to pre-Covid-19-pandemic levels.

Earlier this year, the government proposed plans to introduce a fee for tribunal claims, aiming to encourage employers and employees to reach an agreement earlier.

Purves' article noted that the tribunal process “increases wariness in employers and in their employees [and] provides a dangerous incentive to claim mental illness and future inability to work”.

Amanda Glover, associate employment solicitor at Clarkslegal, told HR magazine that this wariness was not due to employment law.

She said: “I am not convinced it is employment law per se that is making employers and employees more wary of one another. 

“Instead, I would say it is the times we are living in – the unfettered and imminent sharing of misinformation, clickbait news reporting – which would make employers and employees believe that sneezing in the ‘wrong’ way could land them in drawn-out employment tribunal litigation.”

Read more: Tribunal claims returning to pre-pandemic levels

But employment law isn't working, she suggested: "It certainly isn’t working optimally for anyone. We appear to have quite fragmented employment law in the UK in that it is heavily shaped overtime by the whims of new governments.

"Because of this lack of direction and cohesion across all systems of the UK, the employment law system is often left to play catch up."

Claire Williams, chief people and operations officer at Ciphr, told HR magazine that employment law provides protection for employees.

She commented: “It’s not fair to say that employment law doesn’t work for anyone. In the main, employment law goes a long way to ensure employers are held accountable for how they treat their employees – even if at a basic level.”

Williams added that employment law is not to blame for conflict between employers and employees.

She continued: “The reality with employment law is that you are never going to please everyone.

“Whatever the legislation actually does or doesn’t do to protect both employees and employers: if an employee wants to bring a claim then they will find grounds to do so (whether it’s genuine or not) and if an employer decides they want to ‘bend’ the law and risk the consequences, then they will.”

Ian Moore, managing director of HR consultancy Lodge Court, reiterated that employment law is essential for HR.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: "It's important to balance the Times’ perspective by considering the essential role of employment law and tribunals in upholding workers' rights and providing a recourse for genuine grievances. For HR professionals, it's an essential guide for managing relationships with employees effectively and legally."

Read more: Employment tribunal fees may be re-introduced

Glover noted that employers could prevent conflict by having an understanding of employment law.

She added: “The key to alleviating wariness is knowledge and understanding of the law and the way it operates. The clients we have that take the time to understand the law and best practice and who want to be good employers tend to have far less litigation. 

“With knowledge of the law, they are far better equipped to create clear expectations and guidelines for their employees, in turn reducing misunderstandings and conflicts, and demonstrating a commitment to fair treatment. 

“These same employers are also better able to remain calm and collected in the face of an opportunistic, litigious employee, safe in the knowledge that they have done the right thing.”

Williams explained that protections should be in place to prevent malicious tribunal claims.

She noted: "Where things fall down, however, is when there is nothing to prevent employees from bringing malicious claims that most employers can’t afford to defend. Legal fees can quickly exceed £20,000, so they settle. 

“Or, where organisations fail to create cultures that are based on psychological safety, which means employees can’t address and resolve any concerns directly with their employer without fear of punishment."