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Number of employee tribunal claims against employers has escalated by 56% in past year

The number of tribunal claims brought against employers in England, Scotland and Wales has soared in the past year, new findings reveal.

According to figures released from the Tribunals Service, in the 12 months to the end of March 2010, 236,100 claims were brought in employment tribunals, marking an increase from151,000 the previous year.

For the same period, there were 57,400 claims of unfair dismissal brought by employees, compared with 52,700 in the previous 12-month period and 40,941 in the 12-month period ending March 2008.

The figures also show a significant increase in the number of age discrimination claims – 5,200 compared with the previous year's 3,800 claims.

But in the 12 months to the end of March 2009 there were 11,400 claims regarding inappropriate consultation around mass redundancies. This year, the figure had decreased to 7,500.

Owen Warnock, partner at international law firm Eversheds, said: "It is clear that the steep increase in claims this year is mainly attributable to multiple claimant cases, which rose by nearly 90% on the same period in 2008-9. This is exemplified by the fact that, as at the end of March, three fifths of the claims still to be dealt with by the Tribunals Service as a whole were multiple claimant cases.

"Multiple claimant cases are those in which two or more people bring cases arising out of the same or very similar circumstances. They will be largely equal pay, working time, TUPE and redundancy cases, often brought with union support.

"However, for the private sector at least, we appear to be past the nadir of the recession, and this is reflected in the decrease in the number of claims that employers have failed to fulfil their collective consultation obligations properly in mass redundancy situations. It remains important, however, for employers, who can sometimes feel frustrated at legal requirements to consult staff representatives about potential redundancies, to fully comply with the consultation obligations. Attempts to short-circuit the process can backfire and lead to steep penalties for employers.

"Laws protecting against age discrimination in the workplace have been around for a relatively short period of time. As employees are becoming increasingly aware of their rights in this area it is not surprising that we should see a rise in the number of claims."

Kevin Friery, clinical director of Right Corecare, added: " In tough economic times, employers and employees alike face difficult decisions.  When everybody is trying to achieve more with fewer resources, success will only be achieved if employers and employees work together to achieve organisational goals. We certainly can’t sustain quarter of a million Employment Tribunal cases per year.

"Now is the time for employers to take a close look at the psychological contract with the workforce and to take serious steps to eliminate discrimination and to introduce transparency in all dealings with employees.  Employers also need to acknowledge that staff who work excessive hours are not more productive; they are more tired, more stressed, more alienated and more likely to make mistakes.  Working with your employees to maximise productivity by offering a psychologically healthy workplace is the most cost-effective way of getting more for less."