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Employment Protection - Is it fit for purpose?

Posted: 15th April 2015   In: Business Employment, Individual Employment

Robert Bedford, Past President and Council Member of the Hertfordshire Law Society, is an Employment Partner at Machins Solicitors, Luton. Here he considers the effects of the changes in employment legislation on vulnerable and low-paid employees

The Introduction of Employment Tribunal Fees

The introduction of fees to bring claims in the Employment Tribunal 18 months ago, coupled with increasing the length of service requirement to bring a claim, has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of claims being made. Published figures suggest that the number of claims being made have reduced by almost 80% compared to the level they were at before the changes were introduced. As a result, even the viability of the Employment Tribunal itself has being called into question.

Some commentators have questioned whether a reduction in the number of claims being made is necessarily a bad thing. They point to anecdotal evidence suggesting that many employers were being forced to incur significant legal costs to deal with spurious claims by aggrieved former employees, and suggest that the changes in the rules simply addressed an unfair burden that such employers were being forced to bear. However, it is surely nonsense to suggest that such cases are represented by the 80% reduction that has occurred.

Luton Citizens Advice Bureau

As an employment lawyer in a firm with a largely corporate clientele, the majority of the cases that I deal with involve acting for the employer in defending employment tribunal claims. However, as part of my firm’s Corporate Social Responsibility, I am also a trustee of the Luton Citizens Advice Bureau, where I provide a couple of hours free advice each week. Doing this work has given me a completely different perspective on the effect that the rule changes have had.

The majority of the people that I see at Luton CAB are low paid employees, frequently from minority ethnic groups where English is not their first language and with limited education. These are the very employees that the employment legislation was designed to protect but it is clear that as a result of the changes that were introduced 18 months ago it is woefully failing to do so.

Some Typical Cases

Lack of Protection for Employees

These cases are typical of the matters I deal with each week. I have little doubt that some employers are well aware of the lack of protection their employees now have and use this to their advantage.

In the current political climate it is likely that fees are here to stay. However, unless we want to turn the clock on employment protection back by 50 years, there is surely a need for the government to be alive to the problems the rule changes have created and ensure that employment legislation provides protection for the most vulnerable employees; something which at present, in many cases, it is failing to do.

This article was first published in the Spring 2015 edition (issue 26 page 6) of the Hertfordshire Law Society Gazette