At the same time, there has become a perception that employment law has become weighted too heavily in favour of employees while, in a large proportion of cases, the cost of fighting an action outweighs the value of the actual claim itself.
Over and above the amount of money companies may actually pay out on such a case, there is the valuable management and human resources time being used up in the process.
These factors – added to such consideration as negative publicity from a tribunal – place a pressure on employers to settle cases, regardless of their merits.
However, we are seeing a move toward redressing this balance and reducing the pressure on the public purse.
In 2011, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced an Employers’ Charter aimed at redressing the balance – or at least the perception that the law was too employee friendly. One of the first things we have seen is that employees now need to have worked for two years, rather than one, to be protected from unfair dismissal.
Government believes this will mean 2,000 fewer claims – a considerable saving to the tribunal service – with employers also saving nearly £6m per year.
Further to the change to timescale for unfair dismissal, a second major change is expected to come into place in April 2013. People seeking to make a claim to the employment tribunal may be required to pay a fee.
At first glance, this would seem an anti-employee policy, but it actually benefits both sides. For the employer, it reduces the likelihood of facing a claim. For the employee making a genuine claim, the tribunal is likely to look more favourably upon their case because the willingness to risk their own money to bring the action arguably shows a greater belief that the claimant has been wronged.
While it is right that tribunals are there when required, the changes which are being discussed will cut down on vexatious claims and the extension of the qualifying period will clearly also be welcomed by businesses.
Nick Poole is an employment lawyer at Latimer Hinks Solicitors, in Darlington. www.latimerhinks.co.uk 01325 341500