Legislation breeds litigation

2005

Britain's workplaces are becoming more discordant places with disciplinary procedures formalised at an earlier stage and disagreements more likely to lead to legal action.

New figures from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) based on an analysis of calls to its legal advice hotline reveal that while overall call volume increased by four per cent, employment law enquiries grew by more than double that rate to 55,000.

The breakdown shows that FSB lawyers dealt with more enquiries about disciplinary procedures than anything else. Enquiries about disciplinary procedures increased by 25 per cent to 11,429. Calls about grievance procedures were also up by nine per cent.

The significant increase in volume may well reflect the confusion caused by the poorly-publicised 3-step procedure introduced in October 2004, the FSB said.

Calls about employment tribunal claims and procedures leapt by 32 per cent to 1,563 suggesting that tribunals are no longer the quick and relatively straightforward methods of solving work place disputes they once were.

But the helpline received very few calls on age-related issues, suggesting that age discrimination is not the hot topic in the workplace that it is in the media. Only 30 callers asked about age discrimination, fewer than 60 asked about pensions, and only 78 asked about retirement.

Disability topped the table of enquiries about discrimination issues (1,069). In contrast, the help line received very few calls about discrimination on the basis of race (96), religion (8), sexual orientation (11), and equal pay (40.) There were 341 queries about the law on sex discrimination.

But the figures suggest that maternity leave remains an administrative headache for small employers, particularly since there is still no requirement for the mother to inform her employer of when she intends to return to work. The number of queries on this issue remained fairly high at 1,500, a similar figure to the previous year.

"Small businesses have got the legal blues," said Sandy Harris, FSB Member Services Chairman

"On the one hand, the rate of change of employment law makes it virtually impossible for even the most conscientious employer to keep up. On the other, employees are more litigious than ever before armed with 80 different types of complaint that they can bring against their employer.”