• In June 2020, we reviewed key considerations and top tips for employers preparing for Employment Tribunals.

    This follow up article explores what the Employment Tribunal process and system look like now and what this means for employers defending a claim.

    Increase in Employment Tribunal claims

    The latest quarterly tribunal statistics have recently been announced. They show that the Employment Tribunals have received 18% more single claims between April to June this year compared to the same quarter last year.

    This is the highest level of Employment Tribunal single claims since 2012/2013. The cause of this is likely to be the rise in unemployment rates and changes to working conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected that these cases will increase further, particularly when the current furlough leave scheme comes to an end.

    The most common claim disposed of between April to June 2020 was unfair dismissal.  Last year in the same quarter it was unauthorised deductions. Whilst we are unlikely to be seeing, at the moment, case disposals which relate to steps taken by employers during the pandemic, this is a trend which we expect will continue.

    Top tips

    To reduce the likelihood of claims being brought against you as employer, you should:

    • Ensure any restructuring process is carefully planned and alternatives to redundancies carefully considered. Our recent webinar on managing restructuring and redundancies provides useful guidance on how to manage the redundancy process, and identifies common pitfalls to look out for when planning and developing restructuring and redundancy proposals.
    • Keep in contact with employees whatever their working arrangements and ensure concerns are discussed and dealt with at an early stage.

    The effect of COVID-19 – what do Employment Tribunals look like now?

    Three new Employment Tribunal presidential guidance documents were issued on 14 September 2020. They focus on the need for more hearings to happen remotely either in whole or in part in the short term to ensure the backlog in tribunal cases does not worsen.

    The concept of remote hearings on this scale is new for Employment Tribunals. As such, guidance is set out in these documents on how parties should prepare for these hearings. This includes how to lodge documents.

    Parties involved in a claim can express their views on what format is appropriate for the case. We recommend seeking advice if you are uncertain.

    A number of changes have also been made to the Employment Tribunals Rules of Procedure recently.  The aim of this is to boost hearing capacity in the Employment Tribunals and to allow more flexibility for remote hearings.

    These changes include, among others, the ability for non-employment judges to hear cases subject to certain suitability criteria and legal officers to be able to carry out certain administrative tasks currently being carried out by judges.  It is likely to be some time, however, before we see the effect of these changes.

    Top tips

    • We recommend that you carefully consider your options on alternatives to the tribunal process. This may include, for example, judicial mediation or reaching an agreed settlement.
    • Don’t assume that the current situation means that normal procedural rules can be ignored. The same rules still apply and you will need to follow fair processes before considering dismissal or making changes to terms and conditions.
    • If you have an Employment Tribunal claim to defend, ensure you are clear on how the hearing will be held. You should also read the guidance on how that format of hearing will work in practical terms.

    Employment law support

    If you require support on any of the issues covered in this article, please get in touch with our Employment team.

    Redundancy support

    We understand many businesses are facing challenging times and having to make difficult decisions for the long-term future of their organisations.

    Our new package of fixed cost support will aid those who have made the hard decision to consider redundancies. Our team of employment law specialists can assist you with the redundancy process in a way that is cost effective, efficient and legally compliant.

    Can we help?

    Take a look at our Employment & HR page for useful information, resources, guidance, details of our team and how we may be able to help you

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