Surge in employment tribunal cases worries employers


The number of employment tribunal cases has increased by half since 1998, according to a new study that gives credence to employers' fears of a rising tide of employment litigation.

Figures complied by the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) showed that last year alone the number of cases handled on behalf of its 6,000 members increased by 3 three per cent to 2,206 cases, compared to 2,145 in 2002. This compares with 1,450 cases handled by EEF in 1998 when membership was at the same level.

The manufacturers' organisation also warned that the new dispute resolution procedures, to be introduced in October, will do little to ease the problem.

Peter Schofield, EEF director of employment and legal affairs, said: "There is a rising tide of employment litigation which is benefiting nobody in the workplace, certainly not employers, whilst employees are not securing significant victories.

"The Government' s forthcoming dispute resolution procedures will not, by themselves, help and could make the situation worse."

With unhappy staff now able to use up to 26 employment acts and 80 types of complaint against employers, it is hardly surprising that the tribunal system is coming in for growing criticism from employers.

Earlier this month, a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that four out of ten small business owners believe that the tribunal system is now "very unsatisfactory", with a quarter believing that the process treats employers unfairly.

Employers are particularly aggrieved that costs are hardly ever awarded against employees who loose their cases – a mere seven per cent of cases won by firms resulted in costs being awarded against employees.

"The message from these figures is that all parties - including Government, ACAS, employers' organisations and trade unions - must redouble their efforts to ensure more workplace disputes are resolved in the workplace," Schofield said.

But figures released last week by the conciliation service Acas suggest that a quarter of small and medium-sized employers are still not aware of recent changes in employment law such as the forthcoming dispute resolution regulations.

Employers will be particularly worried by signs of a growing number of unjustified or 'speculative' tribunal cases. According to the EEF, more than a quarter of claims (some 27 per cent) were withdrawn by the applicant for no financial or other return before reaching a hearing.

More than three-quarters of claims heard by the tribunal were won by the employer, whilst average settlements and tribunal awards were just under £5,500.