Measures expected soon to curb ‘time-wasting’ tribunals

DTI moves to reduce burden on employers of groundless employee claims to employment tribunals.

The government is poised to announce new measures aimed at curbing the number of time wasting claims being made to employment tribunals.

The move follows complaints from employers about the cost of preparing for tribunal hearings, which they have to pay even if the claim is later dropped or the panel finds in their favour.

Employers say legal costs begin to accumulate from the day a claim is received. They are also under increasing pressure since the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims was reduced from two years to one.

An announcement by trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers is due to be made before Christmas. Byers is likely to significantly extend the existing, but rarely used, powers available to employment tribunal chairs to deal with time-wasters.

These include requesting payment of a deposit if an employee insists on taking a weak or groundless claim to a full tribunal or awarding costs against them if a panel finds in the employer’s favour.

The measures are expected to be broadly in line with recommendations made by the CBI in a policy document earlier this year.

Dominic Johnson, head of employee relations at the CBI, said this week: ‘Stephen Byers strongly hinted at the CBI conference that the government would be taking action, particularly with the aim of deterring frivolous or vexatious claims.

We very much hope that the detail of the DTI proposals reflects the concerns that we put to Stephen Byers.’

Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry has called for an increase in the maximum level of costs that can be awarded against an applicant from £500 to £5,000. Policy director Louise Beard said she was confident the announcement would go a long way to meeting the chamber’s concerns.

She said: ‘We would very much welcome this reform of the tribunal process. We would like to see the costs that can be awarded significantly rise and the powers of chairmen to be used more rigorously.

‘Our members are facing increasing numbers of frivolous claims landing on their desks.

An increase in the costs that can be awarded, we believe, would deter people from putting in frivolous claims.’

Helen Rowe writes for Personnel Today.