Continuing upward trend in employment tribunals should be a warning to high street businesses according to HR specialists
The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice show that the aggregate number of employment tribunals has increased quarter-on-quarter in the last year, with Covid thought to be the likely cause as a result of businesses mishandling furlough, changes to employment contracts and redundancies in the last 14 months.
Overall, single cases have risen 5% whilst multiple claim cases (made by more than one person based on the same set of facts) have increased by 18%. In notes accompanying the latest statistical release, the Ministry of Justice says that ‘though there was a comparative fall this quarter, there has been an aggregate rise over the last few quarters which is most likely due to the rise in unemployment and changes to working conditions seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. This rise in Employment tribunal receipts is likely to continue as the economy has faced a severe shock following the impact of COVID-19 and could be further accelerated when the furlough scheme ends’.
Smaller firms are thought to be most at risk of challenge by disgruntled workers according to Amrita Govindji-Bruce, joint managing director at NORI HR and Employment Law, a family-run consultancy in Lancashire.
“A lot of small businesses, especially in retail and hospitality, have been forced to let people go or cut their hours in order to survive the pandemic, but it’s clear they haven’t all dealt with their employees properly and fairly when doing so. In the main, it’s because they don’t have any internal HR and employment law expertise.
“As a result, we’re seeing rising numbers of business owners and managers asking for help because one or more employees have raised grievances concerning their treatment, so these new figures from the Ministry of Justice come as no surprise.
“Not only is all this fire-fighting an unwanted distraction just as businesses are opening up again, but if not resolved through mediation it can end up in an employment tribunal with costly awards and reputational damage.”
The recent case of the Mad Hatters Tea Rooms in the Lancashire village of Longton, where two former employees successfully took the business to an employment tribunal, serves to illustrate the point. Not only was the owner made to pay more than £2,000, it has been the subject of negative news reporting and widespread criticism on social media.
“The owners of small firms will often ‘wing it’ where HR is concerned, wrongly assuming that it’s only big businesses that find themselves getting taken to an employment tribunal, but that’s simply not true.
” To avoid the very real threat of being the subject of a claim, businesses of all sizes should get expert help before making any changes to terms and conditions, reducing hours, making staff redundant or putting them on furlough. And if it’s already too late for that, it’s crucial to get professional advice on mediation and other ways to avoid going to tribunal,” added Govindji-Bruce.