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New employment tribunal rules welcome

New rules designed to reduce the number of employment tribunals have been announced and broadly speaking can be welcomed as a positive step for employers and staff.

Under the changes, staff seeking to bring a case against an employer will first have to notify the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). This will be mandatory after May 6 although businesses and employees will not be required to settle a claim through the process and can still choose to go to a tribunal.

This move, known as the Early Conciliation scheme, will go a long way to prevent tribunals reaching court where high costs are incurred and the process made more lengthy and stressful, and that’s good news for all concerned.

Research shows that the early conciliation scheme, which follows a similar scheme run in 2010/11, could save the British economy several million pounds a year. Employers also save several thousand pounds in management time and legal costs compared to dealing with a tribunal case.

On balance, I feel the new scheme will make it easier for employers to deal with relatively minor employment disputes, which have also decreased significantly since the introduction of new fees to bring employment tribunals.

Compared to other reforms, Early Conciliation is perhaps the most effective introduced to date, particularly compared to the new fee structure for bringing employment tribunals which faces further change and is subject to a legal challenge by Unison.

The fees, which rise depending on how complex the tribunal is, have led to a staggering 79% fall in the number of tribunal applications. While good news for employers, this does not represent the number of unmeritorious employment tribunal claims but instead reluctance by staff to risk paying the fee and then losing the case.

Overall, attempts to reduce the cost of employment tribunal claims for employers and at the same time improve workers’ rights in the workplace must be welcomed.

By Alex Jones, employment law specialist with QS Howlett Clarke, Brighton’s oldest law firm.

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