By Andy Willis, Head of Litigation at Croner

Dealing with an employment tribunal claim can be stressful, costly and time-consuming. But there are practical steps employers can take to minimise the risk of tribunals in the first place, and to put themselves in the best possible position in the event that a case is brought.

Deal with problem employees early

Employers are often nervous of tackling problem employees, but it is essential to deal with issues before they escalate to become time consuming and costly for the business.

- Start with a robust recruitment strategy that clearly articulates the job description and type of person you need to hire.

- Use probationary periods effectively to ensure any concerns are dealt with at the start of the employee relationship In particular, ensure issues are dealt with formally (not just informally) by the end of a year’s employment, the qualifying period for unfair dismissal.

Build records that create a strong defence

The employment tribunal expects to see all documents relating to the situation – document bundles can often reach three or four hundred pages. Getting into the habit of documenting actions is good management practice and will save you a lot of time and effort in the event of a tribunal claim.

- Make sure managers document conversations and actions - if it’s not written down, it may be assumed it didn’t happen.

- Store employee records and manager actions centrally. All too often, information is stored on an individual’s computer – if there are technical problems or the line manager leaves the company, you could find yourself lacking key evidence.

Ensure your managers take the right action

As an employer you are liable for the actions of your managers, but few managers have had training or guidance in how to handle problems with employees. Employment law can be complex and it is easy to slip up if you are not an expert.
For example, one common myth is that you can fire an employee on the spot for gross misconduct – in fact, you still have to go through a process before taking any action.

- Ensure your line managers are clear about what issues they have the authority to tackle

- Get expert advice early. Make sure your managers know who to turn to for advice and when they should seek it – the sooner the better.

- If you don’t have an HR manager in-house, consider using an external HR service provider to support you as the cost can be far less than the cost of dealing with a tribunal if the situation escalates.

Reduce costly employment lawyers’ fees

Don’t waste money on unnecessary costs. With legal fees for solicitors at around £200 per hour – more for a senior partner – and a tribunal case typically taking around 30 hours, costs can be significant. But there are ways to lessen the pain.

- Invest in legal expenses insurance that will cover you for the costs and awards of an employment tribunal

- By building strong records as a matter of course, you can give a lawyer a clear document trail and chronology. This could reduce the time they have to spend on the case down to a few hours.

Watch an insight into the workings of an employment tribunal at www.cronersolutions.co.uk

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