By Max Clarke

'The employment tribunal system is failing businesses and individuals', the CBI (Confederation of British Indistry) said today.

The system is meant to offer claimants and companies informal, quick and cost-effective judgements; but instead the system is slow, legalistic and antagonistic.

In its submission to the Government’s Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation, the business group called for a package of measures to speed up the tribunal system, reduce costs for both sides, and make the system fairer.

“It’s always regrettable when the relationship between employer and employee breaks down to the point where a tribunal claim is made,” said Katja Hall, CBI Chief Policy Director. “But when this happens, both sides deserve a system that is consistent, quick and keeps legal costs to a minimum. Instead, we are saddled with a tribunal system that is expensive, stressful and time-consuming for all parties.

“Surely it’s in everyone’s interests for cases with merit to be heard quickly and settled, while weak claims are swiftly identified and weeded out. We’d like to see more workplace disputes being resolved before they reach tribunal.”
With a 173% rise in claims since 2005, and an ever-increasing claims backlog, the CBI is calling for:

• Action to weed out weak claims

The CBI calls for a package of measures designed to prevent weak claims. This includes making sure people are aware of what they could achieve to avoid unrealistic expectations.
In addition, the CBI also calls on the Government to introduce a proportionate fee per claim designed to ensure that only reasonable claims are brought. Fees should never be a barrier to justice, but should be proportionate and refundable on success.

• Measures to encourage settlement at an early stage

A fair settlement early in a case is a better outcome for all parties. A formal system for making offers to settle, and advising the tribunal when a reasonable offer has been turned down, should be put in place.
Compromise agreements, where an employer and employee agree on a deal to end an employment relationship by mutual consent without using the tribunal system, are inherently fair. But the legal process around them has become unnecessarily complicated and expensive. The Government should make compromise agreements much easier to use.
• Using employment tribunal league tables to improve efficiency and consistency

Where a case reaches tribunal, employers and claimants have a right to expect consistency and efficient handling of the case. This includes reducing unnecessary documentation and keeping to the timetable set out for judgements. Showing how different regions and individual judges perform against these standards will encourage best practice and greater efficiency. The Tribunals Service currently gathers national-level data, but no regional breakdown is available. A transparent mechanism which shows how the system is working across the country would restore credibility.

Concluded Ms. Hall:

“The tribunals system has gradually become a barrier to justice. Even where a successful outcome is likely, firms try to avoid the heavy costs and long delays. A programme of common sense reforms is long overdue. We need to see a transparent, fairer system built around the interests of legitimate claimants and responsible firms.”