Employment tribunal system is failing

The CBI has described the employment tribunal system as slow, legalistic and antagonistic in its submission to the Government’s consultation on reforms to the way that workplace disputes are resolved.

As such, the CBI insisted, the current set up for dealing with employee grievances is failing both employers and workers.

The business group said it wants to see a major overhaul of the system aimed at making the process faster, fairer and less costly.

Specifically, weak or vexatious claims should be sieved from the system so that valid claims get a quicker hearing.

Employees should be made aware of what they could achieve by taking an employer to tribunal in order to avoid unrealistic expectations. The average compensation paid out at tribunals is just £4,000, a long way from the hundreds of thousands that make the headlines in high profile sex discriminations cases.

There should also be a charge of a fee for lodging a claim so that only sensible complaints are brought forward. Such fees should be proportionate and refundable in those cases where the claim is upheld.

Another of the CBI’s recommendations is that settlements should be encouraged at an early stage. In other words, a formal system for making offers to settle should be put in place.

Although compromise agreements, where an employer and employee negotiate a deal by mutual consent without going to tribunal, are fair, the CBI argued that the legal process surrounding them has become too complicated and expensive.

Lastly, the CBI said that the tribunals themselves must be made more efficient and consistent. One way of doing this would be to introduce tribunal league tables detailing how different regions and judges perform against set standards.

Katja Hall, the CBI’s chief policy director, said: “It’s always regrettable when the relationship between employer and employee breaks down to the point where a tribunal claim is made. 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.”

Ms Hall added: “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.”

There was a 56 per cent increase in tribunal claims last year, taking the total to 236,000.

In January, the Government announced initial plans to change the tribunal system. Proposals covered claimants paying a fee in order to bring a case and doubling to two years the length of time someone must work before they can claim unfair dismissal.

The Government also wants to see all claims go to the conciliation service Acas for one month before arriving at a tribunal hearing as a way of prompting early agreements.