The number of employment tribunal cases brought against employers fell by almost a quarter last year, according to new research.
Figures from law firm Peninsula show a 24 per cent fall in employment tribunal applications, down from 127,594 in 2003 to 97,896 in 2004.
This is in contrast to last year's figures, which showed a 17 per cent rise in cases between April 2003 and 2004. The number of cases has also increased by more than half since 1998.
According to Mike Huss, senior employment law specialist at Peninsula, the fall may indicate that last year's Dispute Resolution Regulations have had some effect in curbing tribunal claims.
The Regulations, which came into force in October 2004, mean that all employers and employees must follow a minimum three-step disciplinary and grievance procedure in the event of a workplace dispute.
These procedures mean that many disputes are being settled before reaching the tribunal stage, Huss said. But he warned that the figures were likely to rise again.
"The tribunal figure has both fell and risen over the years, and if previous patterns are to be followed, then of course the tribunal figure will no doubt increase again," he said.
"When you see the large awards that are made and you become aware of the 'no win, no fee' organisations trying to assist people to make claims, combine this with an increase in employee rights, then I believe that the number of employment tribunal applications made against employers will certainly rise over forthcoming years," he added.
Last year, another Peninsula survey found that almost nine out of ten people (85 per cent) said that they would be prepared to lie if it meant winning a tribunal case against their employer.
And according to a CBI survey, almost seven out of ten firms believe the number of "weak and vexatious" employment tribunal claims has increased over recent years.
With staff now able to use up to 26 employment acts and 80 types of complaint against employers, it is little surprise that smaller firms tend to be most vulnerable to litigation.
According to Mike Huss, small firms are the targets of 44 per cent of tribunal claims and lose these cases twice as often as large employers, largely because they do not have the right HR procedures and resources in place to deal with the minefield of legislation.
Research earlier this year by the CIPD found that managing conflicts at work costs the average employer in Britain nearly 450 days of management time every year – equivalent to the time of full-time two managers.
And as Mike Huss warns: "it only takes one disgruntled person to take their employer to tribunal if they can prove that the employer was wrong or practiced poor HR procedures."