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How to avoid employment tribunal claims

View profile for Philip Richardson
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Coronavirus and employment law - what are my rights?

According to Ministry of Justice statistics, single employment claims rose by 90 percent in the final quarter of 2017 compared to the same quarter the previous year.

This increase follows the abolition of employment tribunal fees in July 2017. Employees feel more empowered than ever to bring claims against their employers now that they do not have the financial restraints they once had. But, what does this mean for you as an employer? And how can you avoid employment tribunal claims being brought against you?

The most common reasons that complaints to an employment tribunal arise include:

Unfair dismissal

You may find yourself in an employment tribunal if you dismiss an employee without a fair reason to do so or if you do not follow the correct procedures and processes when dealing with a disciplinary or redundancy. According to the government, a dismissal can be deemed unfair and challenged at tribunal if it comes after an employee:

  • Asks for flexible working arrangements
  • Has resigned and given the correct notice period
  • Joined a trade union
  • Has taken part in legal industrial action for a maximum of twelve weeks
  • Applied for maternity, paternity or adoption leave
  • Exposed wrongdoing (also known as whistleblowing)
  • Needed to take time away from work in order to attend jury service
  • Refused to give up their rights such as breaks.

Fair reasons for dismissing an employee include:

  • If it is in the best interests of the business. Please see our guides on large scale and small scale redundancy consultation processes.
  • If they are subject to a restriction which prevents them from carrying out the work they are employed to do. For example if a driver receives a driving ban as a result of breaking the law.
  • If they have a long-term or persistent illness which has made it impossible for them to continue doing their job after having given them reasonable time to recover and looking at ways of supporting their return to work.
  • If they are unable to do their job properly. For example, not being able to keep up with changes or unable to get along with other employees.

It is crucial that when dismissing employees for any of the above reasons that you follow the correct procedures and guidance as set out by ACAS to avoid claims being made against you.

Handling of redundancy

Sometimes employers have no choice other than to make employees redundant for the good of the future of the business. This is never an easy choice to make as an employer but if there are no alternative options available you must ensure that you go about things in the right way to maintain your reputation. If you handle redundancies incorrectly this can lead to claims against you at an employment tribunal. There are legal requirements that you must adhere to when making employees redundant and there are lots of things that you need to consider when choosing employees to be dismissed and how you handle the consultation process, to avoid claims against you for unfair dismissal or discrimination.

Read our guides on how to handle the consultation process for large scale and small scale redundancies for more information on the law and best practice guidelines to minimise the chance of claims being made against you if you are going through the redundancy process.

Discrimination claims

Your employees are protected under the Equality Act 2010 and should be treated fairly. If you are found to be in breach of this law you could find yourself at the centre of a discrimination claim at an employment tribunal. The law states that individuals are considered discriminated against if it can be proven that the unfair act to which they were subject to was because of one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Their age
  • Their gender
  • Their race
  • Their sexual orientation
  • Their marital status
  • Their pregnancy or maternity
  • Their gender reassignment
  • Their religious beliefs
  • Their disability

If an employee feels that they have been treated less favourably at work than another colleague due to a protected characteristic they may make a claim to the employment tribunal. It is therefore important to ensure reasonable adjustments are made by you to allow an employee with a protected characteristic to be treated as equal to their colleagues. For example, you might consider altering your premises as far as is reasonably possible to allow the accessibility for a disabled employee to be as close to the standard as enjoyed by other employees without a disability. Failure to make reasonable adjustments could lead to claims of discrimination against you. Compensation awards for discrimination claims are unlimited, so if you were to lose a discrimination claim you could face a heavy financial penalty, depending on the severity of the alleged discriminatory behaviour or conduct.

Disputes over pay

If you have a dispute with an employee over the payment of their wages this could also lead to an employment tribunal claim against you if it cannot be resolved in the workplace. To avoid disputes over pay it is a good idea to ensure that your contracts of employment are up to date and signed by both yourself and your employees. Contracts of employment should include at the very least the details of the employees wage, holiday entitlement and hours of work. If contracts are up to date and outline fully the details and terms of employment they can be used to refer back to if a dispute arises. They are a good way to make sure that you have covered yourself should a dispute arise and you have a complaint made against you to an employment tribunal.

Stephensons’ employment law experts can assist you in writing tailored contracts of employment and policies and procedures for your business to ensure that you are compliant with the law and protected against any future employment tribunal claims.

How Stephensons can help

If you require legal advice and assistance our employment law and HR support solicitors can help to guide you through all aspects of employment law issues including redundancies, grievances and discrimination claims and can defend you at employment tribunal if you are unfortunate enough to be facing a claim from an employee. If you would like to speak to a member of our team please call us on 01616 966 229.