Employment Tribunal claims at an all time high
The tribunal statistics have now been released for the year 2009/10 and have revealed some interesting trends. There has been a sharp increase of 56% in the number of employment tribunal receipts to 236,100, which could be explained as a result the economic climate, for example redundancy complaints and being more conscious of rights and receiving the correct pay etc. This employment tribunal figure, in fact, exceeds the number of immigration tribunal receipts since 2007/08, which are consistently high.
How would you describe a typical claimant and their associated workplace?
Firstly, it interested me that in relation to employment tribunals a disproportionate number of small employers are involved, possibly because they do not have the extensive HR / legal resources of larger companies (we can help with this!) In addition, claimants tend to be older, male, come from managerial positions and come from hotel, restaurant and financial sectors. This could be linked to these sectors being more susceptible to different working practises, for example, long hours, shift patterns, commission and third party regulations.
Working Time Regulations – the clock is ticking!
An interesting observation in the tribunal statistics in general is that claims involving a breach of statute are up by 47%. From this, a quarter of these claims involved the working time regulations. This is an area which is currently under review by the European Commission to examine if any areas need updating since it came into effect in 1994. However, the EU trade unions are resistant to such discussions, as they would wish to see no opt out for the 48 working week, a change in the definition on ‘on call time’ and in general strict adherence to the directive. Judging from the number of claims it may allude to employers ‘pushing the barriers’ when it come to break times, the 48 hours week etc. –Gravitate Tip– As for our advice in this matter, we always ensure that an opt out is in place in a contract of employment if the role would be likely to require more than 48 hours of work a week. The employee would then sign and consent to this – therefore opting out in writing.
Unauthorised Deductions – continuing number of claims
Another observation in these statistics revealed that one fifth of breach of statute claims related to unauthorised deductions. This has historically seen a high volume of claims, as back in 2005 it was still among the most common complaints. As it stands, a lawful deduction can only be made if it is covered by statute, ordered by a court or authorised by the employee. –Gravitate Tip– We make a point to include a deductions clause in all our contracts of employment to cover any overpayment in wages, for example.
However, an unlawful deduction can also be accounted by a company reducing an employee’s salary by a ‘quantifiable’ amount, without following a fair consultation process. In some instances, this may result in breach of contract as well, but –Gravitate Tip– the most important thing is to consult with your staff, gain their agreement and explain the business reasons for this. This can be seen in an alternative to redundancy situation when all employees’ wages are lowered – and this is covered by a statutory consultation process.
An employer may also want to reserve the right to deduct from an employee’s wages if, for example, they have paid for training costs, but the employee leaves in the middle or just after completing the course. This can only be deducted under agreement by the employee. –Gravitate Tip– In this situation we would advise putting in place a clear training covenant either under a separate document or as part of the employee’s contract – this would cover the terms of recovering training costs as standard.
Concerned or need advice?
I hope this has given you a few things to keep in mind for protecting your business and avoid it from becoming part of the statistics! If you have any concerns or queries regarding the above or related issues please contact us on 0131 225 7458.