By Marcus Leach

The Forum of Private Business is calling on the Government to protect small businesses against employees who exploit employment laws to make ‘vexatious claims’ against them.

Based on its Employment Panel research, in addition to 2008-09 employment tribunal statistics and data from the Civil Mediation Council (CMC), the Forum estimates that there are approximately 1,900,000 workplace disputes in the UK every year.

As part of its new Get Britain Trading campaign, the Forum is calling for more flexibility for smaller employers in order to free them to create jobs and drive economic growth.

Responding to the Government’s ‘resolving workplace disputes’ consultation, the not-for-profit organisation is highlighting the results of its latest Employment Law member panel survey.

According to the Forum’s research,92% of members support giving judges greater powers to ‘strike out’ weak cases, 86% back doubling the deposit and costs limits for vexatious claims and 73% encouraging settlements via greater transparency in revealing compensation sought and details of rejected settlements.

In addition, 62% support increasing employee claims eligibility from one to two years, 51% removing expenses payments to witnesses and 41% increasing opportunities for judges to sit alone and introduce legal officers to make the tribunals process more efficient.

Further, almost a third of respondents (32%) actually welcome a proposal to introduce financial penalties for employers who wilfully do not comply with employment law, suggesting smaller employers are more fair-minded than many critics argue.

However, some members surveyed feel that this enforcement would be better managed outside the tribunal system, while others would prefer employment law to be made more manageable before introducing fines.

“There is often a misconception that businesses tend to ride roughshod over the rights of employees but this is far from true for the majority of small businesses that rely on recruiting and retaining key staff in order to grow,” said the Forum’s Chief Executive Phil Orford.

“Clearly, we need companies that do engage in this sort of behaviour to be dealt with, but there needs to be a better balance so that employment law protects smaller employers as well as workers.”

He added: “We are currently in a situation where employment legislation designed to benefit employees can be a real barrier to creating employment, and favours individual workers at the expense of the rest of the workforce, often even when those claims are vexatious.

“This has to change. We need a fairer system focusing on mediation and conciliation rather than paving the way for disputes to reach the tribunal stage, allowing firms to flourish, create employment and drive economic growth.”