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Unfair dismissal claims rise by almost a third since 2008

The number of unfair dismissal claims has risen by 29% to 52,711 since 2008, according to the Tribunals Service.

Although on the whole the number of employment tribunals fell by 20% in the year ending March 2009, the statistics from the Service show this still marked a 14% increase on the 2006/2007 figure.

The data also revealed an increase in the number of single claims accepted, which rose to 63,000 in 2008-09 - a rise of 15% on the year before, although sex discrimination cases also dropped by 31%.

James Wilders, employment law partner at Dickinson Dees, said: "At first glance there seems to be a significant drop in claims but last year's figures were inflated by multiple resubmissions of airline employee claims. Discounting these, there has actually only been a 4% drop in accepted claims.
"The figures reflect the recession, with two-and-a-half times as many claims concerning employers failing to inform or consult employee representatives before redundancies this year, and claims for redundancy pay up 48%.
"When viewed alongside the increase in unfair dismissal claims, it is clear many more employees were aggrieved at the handling of their dismissals this year than last. Many businesses could have avoided the additional cost and aggravation of such claims with more care in handling redundancy or disciplinary situations.
"Age discrimination claims also rose nearly fourfold from 2007. But some of those claims will now be struck out as a result of the recent failure of the Heyday case, which unsuccessfully challenged the default retirement age of 65.
"With costs ordered in a mere quarter per cent of cases, there is little deterrent to dissuade employees from pursuing claims, whether weak or strong. With budgets tight, employers must tread extremely carefully regarding how they treat their employees to ensure they do not expose themselves to arduous, legal action, particularly at a time they can ill afford it."

Joanna Cowie, head of legal at HR Insight, added: "The statistics make salutary reading when it comes to amount of compensation awarded to claimants. Whilst the highest figure awarded for unfair dismissal was a whopping £84,005 (including the ‘basic' award), this figure almost pales into insignificance when compared to the highest award made to a claimant for race discrimination, which was £1,353.432.

"The disparity arises because unfair dismissal compensation is subject to a statutory cap and no award can be made for ‘injury to feelings'. Contrast this with discrimination claims, where the tribunal has the authority to award unlimited compensation. In these cases, a significant part of the award will often be compensation to the claimant for the upset and distress or ‘injury to feelings' they have suffered as a result of their employer's discriminatory behaviour."