Tribunals should have power to strike out frivolous claims, say employers

Nearly three-quarters of employers want employment tribunals to have greater powers in removing weak or vexatious employment claims from the system, a recent survey finds.

According to an online poll of 111 employers by business law firm DWF, 73% employers are in favour of employment tribunals having wider powers to 'strike out' claims that are deemed to be spurious and have no reasonable chance of success.

DWF commissioned the survey earlier this month, as part of its contribution to the Government's consultation on tribunal reform. The Government has recently proposed greater powers for employment tribunals, which include increasing the deposit required for making a claim against an employer and extending the time for an employee to make a claim for unfair dismissal from one year to two years.

The survey found that employers are keen to resolve disputes as early as possible, with over half of the 111 employers surveyed (51%) backing early conciliation with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) as a means of resolving an employment dispute.

However, workplace mediation prior to the onset of proceedings remains a relatively rare concept, with 66% of employers surveyed indicating they had never used workplace mediation as a means of resolving a dispute.

Seven out of 10 (71%) of employers backed the proposal to introduce formal offers to settle cases early on. The proposal also means that if a formal offer is rejected, a tribunal could issue a financial penalty to a party rejecting a reasonable settlement.

And nine out of 10 (89%) of employers wanted employment judges to request deposits from employees making a claim throughout the tribunal process, not just at pre-hearing reviews.

The current deposit is set at £500 - the Government has proposed to double this to £1000. DWF found employers were split on plans to double the deposit, with 51% of those surveyed rejecting an increase.

Kirsty Rogers, head of the employment team at DWF, said: "Employers are rightly asking for a more robust and streamlined tribunal process. It is important that changes to this area of law are made with care, so as to protect employers from rogue claims, while ensuring employees' rights are protected. While employees must not be priced out of justice by costly deposits, this does need to be balanced with the cost of spurious claims to employers.

"We believe extending the length of the qualifying period for an employee to be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal from one to two years would have limited positive effect, encouraging employees to pursue claims where there is no qualifying service. The right way forward is to strengthen the tribunal process by targeting vexatious claims, while encouraging early and robust mediation, either in the workplace or through ACAS or the tribunal," Rogers added.

There is yet to be full consultation on the question of whether an issue fee should also be levied for tribunal claims, but initial responses suggest it would be beneficial. DWF will conduct a survey on that question when more details are available.