This week, the Supreme Court ruled that employment tribunal fees are unlawful. Government figures showed that 79% less cases were brought over a period of three years and the expectation is that the number of claims could rise significantly with the abolition of fees. It is absolutely and fundamentally important that more people have access to justice but amongst employers, there may be some anxiety about the news.
But the best approach to employment tribunals is always to steadfastly work to avoid them.
There are costs associated with tribunals. Financial, yes, but also human costs. For either side, it must be hugely daunting to address a tribunal, even with the support of experienced, expert, and supportive employment lawyers. And indeed, there is the damage to reputation, both within and outside the company.
For an employee relationship to end up in a tribunal is the ultimate breakdown, the last resort, and one that companies should seek to avoid.
And companies can do this through developing positive employee practices, exemplified through clear, transparent, and fair policies and procedures. Through developing an empowering and supportive culture, where feedback isn’t just sought but given too. Where choices are given, where opportunities to influence are offered, and where there is no fear nor stigma associated with honest views; where complaints as well as compliments are actively encouraged. Through developing great managers who are able to engage with employees, to develop their direct reports, and to identify issues or concerns and address these. Through effective and inspiring leadership, which sets the standard for the organisation, clarifying the expectations – in no uncertain terms – of what will and won’t be tolerated.
Of course, even with this in place, there are times when relationships can still fail and robust and clear procedures are needed to address this along with the expert knowledge of an employment lawyer.
But minimising the risk of tribunals has to be the best approach. Because nobody – employer nor employee – ever enters into a relationship hoping it will fail, expecting it to result in litigation. Which is why the company focus must always be on working to ensure that an employee tribunal will not occur through positive, proactive, and committed employee engagement, clear practices, great management, positive leadership, and a supportive organisational culture.