Christine Pratt, the founder of The National Bullying Helpline, a privately run nationally recognised advice centre based in Swindon which specialises in conflict resolution, has expressed concern about the recent introduction of Employment Tribunal fees.
Changes in UK legislation which came into effect on 29 July 2013 mean that it will now cost up to £1,200 for an employee to take their employer to an Employment Tribunal. This fee will be waived in hardship cases.
Furthermore, in cases where the employee wins their case the employer will have to reimburse their fee. The Government decided to bring about the changes after it was announced that the taxpayer was footing the entire £74m tribunal dispute bill.
The Forum of Private Business (FPB) has welcomed the introduction of employment tribunal fees, but said it did not foresee them working as a disincentive to bring about major changes in the system.
The FPB’s Chief Executive, Phil Orford, said: "Escalating workplace disputes to the tribunal stage is too easy an option for many employees. The burden on the employee is limited whilst employers are not only defending the case in question, but also the reputation of their business. Hopefully the introduction of fees will make claimants think more carefully before resorting to litigation.
"Our members recognise that employment law is there to protect both the employee and the employer. But when weak and vexatious claims are being made against employers the system is being abused at considerable expense to small businesses employers; they do not have the time, resources or the money to defend vexatious claims and in many cases should not have to."
Christine Pratt (pictured), who founded the National Bullying Helpline after realising the enormity of bullying and harassment in the workplace, says that although it is understandable why the Government wishes to address the problem, she is concerned that this fee paying approach will be detrimental in hardship cases, particularly to those who find themselves constructively dismissed or out of work due to work related discrimination;
"Seeking redress for unfair dismissal and discrimination and other injustices in the workplace is a fundamental human right – but now ministers are putting up insurmountable financial hurdles for working people in pursuit of justice. The Unions have estimated that this will affect 150,000 workers every year.
"We are extremely concerned that these fees will disproportionately hit those suffering discrimination because of their age, race, disability and/or gender. Women returning from maternity leave, for example, will be hit hard as they will be assessed on their final salary rather than their statutory maternity pay.
“Some people will simply feel unable to challenge an unfair dismissal case, regardless of how badly they were treated. We tend to forget that the fear and uncertainty associated with legally challenging an employer in an open court is an already extremely daunting and stressful prospect for the average person, without the added worry of funding the initial tribunal application (ET1). In a high percentage of cases the employee is already suffering with work related stress – a serious and often underestimated mental health condition.
"We also question what is meant by ‘hardship cases’ and how these will be assessed by the Tribunal system. Surely, everyone who has lost their job unlawfully is automatically a hardship case – by simple virtue of the fact that they are no longer receiving a monthly salary.
“We believe the FPB is concerned about a minority of vexatious tribunal applicants, in some cases still working for the employer, and the knock on affect those cases may have to the reputation of FPB members.
"In reality, vexatious cases are often teased-out and prevented from proceeding at the Case Management stage (prior to formal tribunal proceedings). The FPB should know this.
"What we are concerned with is the rogue employer who, under this fee paying scheme, may take further advantage of a dismissed employee simply because that person does not have the ‘luxury of choice’ in terms of seeking justice or remedy – because they are unemployed and cannot raise either legal fees or the tribunal fee”.