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Will Employment Tribunal Fees Damage Employee Relations - A Look at the Debate

Darryl Horn, Thursday, 14 March 2024 • 3 min read

The issue of Employment Tribunal (ET) fees in the UK has resurfaced, sparking debate about access to justice for employees and its potential impact on workplace relations. Proponents argue that fees deter frivolous claims and streamline the system, while critics fear they silence legitimate grievances, ultimately harming employee trust and fostering a culture of fear.

The Case for Fees

Supporters of reintroducing fees argue that the current system, where employees don't pay to bring claims, is open to abuse. They believe fees would act as a deterrent against weak or vexatious claims, freeing up tribunal resources for genuine cases. The government previously introduced fees in 2013, and a Ministry of Justice study found a subsequent 70% drop in ET claims. '[Fees] would help ensure that tribunals are used for genuine claims and not for tactical leverage,' argues a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The Access to Justice Argument

Opponents, including trade unions like the TUC (Trades Union Congress), vehemently disagree. They argue that fees create a 'two-tier justice system' where only financially secure employees can afford to challenge unfair treatment. 'These fees would deter genuine claims and leave many vulnerable workers at the mercy of bad bosses,' says Frances O'Grady, TUC General Secretary. They point out that many valid claims involve complex legal issues, where legal representation is crucial. Fees could effectively price out a significant portion of the workforce from seeking legal recourse.

Beyond Legal Fees: The Ripple Effect of Unresolved Disputes

The debate extends beyond just the financial burden on employees. Unresolved workplace disputes are costly for businesses too. A study by Acuity Law found that the indirect costs associated with unresolved disputes, such as lost productivity, staff turnover, and reputational damage, can far outweigh legal fees. '[Fees] might save on a few tribunal claims, but they could also lead to a rise in these often more significant indirect costs,' says Sarah Clarke, employment law solicitor at Acuity Law.

Finding Common Ground: Prevention and Early Resolution

The debate highlights the need for a multifaceted approach. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) already offers free mediation services to help resolve disputes informally before they reach tribunals. Businesses can also play a proactive role by investing in robust HR practices, fostering open communication, and establishing clear grievance procedures. '[Early intervention] can not only prevent disputes from escalating but also build trust and improve employee relations,' says Matthew Brown, director of HR consultancy firm, Fairness at Work.

Protecting Rights and Promoting Fairness

Ultimately, ensuring a fair and accessible system for resolving workplace disputes benefits everyone. Employees need to feel confident that they can voice concerns without fear of retribution, while businesses require a stable and productive work environment. Finding the right balance between deterring frivolous claims and upholding employee rights is key to fostering positive employee relations.

Will Employment Tribunal Fees Damage Employee Relations - A Look at the Debate
#EmploymentTribunals #EmployeeRights #WorkplaceRelations #Fairness
This article was first published on 14/3/24.

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About the author

Darryl

Darryl is a Chartered CIPD Member, business leader and operational manager with 30 years experience in on-the-ground and strategic HR, specialising in Human Resources Management, Employment Law, Employee Relations and Learning & Development.

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