For some time, I’ve been hearing anecdotal reports about the backlog in the employment tribunal system. Cases are, apparently, now taking several months to come to court.
The statistics published last month by the Employment Tribunal Service offer some explanation. There was a 43% increase in tribunal claims in the year to March 2008. The types of claim showing the highest increases were equal pay and working time cases.
The reason for the ongoing increase in equal pay claims has been done to death on this blog. Most of the cases affect the public sector. HR Zone’s Michael Delaney gives a sound explanation for the increase in other types of claim. He rightly points the finger at the hated (by employers) statutory dismissal and grievance procedures which meant that employers could face claims simply for missing out a step in the procedure or not treating every employee whinge as a formal grievance.
Those procedures were abolished on 6 April, to much rejoicing from employers and, especially, HR executives.
But, as an employment lawyer friend said to me a couple of weeks ago, the damage may already have been done. The statutory regulations, he argued, have contributed to the creation of a grievance culture in many organisations and, especially, in the public sector. The authors of this briefing from Dechert’s agree:
It is unlikely that the introduction of the new rules will make much difference to the grievance culture that many employers have seen develop over recent years, partly spurred on by the introduction of the statutory minimum grievance procedures in 2004.
In other words, people have got used to raising grievances and see them as a defence against attempts by employers to manage performance.
In all probability, especially with the increase in redundancies, pay cuts and changes to employment terms brought on by the recession, the number of employment tribunal claims will continue to increase. Provisional figures for the ten months to February 2009, obtained by Xpert HR, seem to support this view.
We are not greatly worked up about the new labour law. We have no plans for any major labour law reform.
If things stay as they are, and it looks as though they will, employment tribunals will continue to be very busy for the foreseeable future.