Employment Tribunal Cases – Don’t Risk Them

In recent times it has become more vital that an employer is aware of their obligations amid the minefield of employment law. Claims brought against an unaware employer can be costly in regard to time, resources and reputation. Not only this but an employment tribunal case can have a potentially damaging effect on relationships with current members of staff.Costly employment tribunal awards can arise out of what appeared to be minor matters – including failing to follow simple disciplinary and grievance procedures. The following are examples of some fundamental employment issues as well as hints and tips to help employers avoid employment tribunal claims.Dismissal, Disciplinary and Grievance ProceduresThe Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations 2004 require all employers, regardless of size, to operate minimum statutory dismissal, disciplinary and grievance procedures.If an employee has been employed for 12 months or more (and has not been dismissed for gross misconduct) then they are automatically entitled to receive the minimum level of formal disciplinary procedure from their employer. It is automatically unfair dismissal if an employer dismisses an employee without following the appropriate statutory procedure. Employees who do not first attempt to settle a grievance using the internal workplace procedures are disqualified from bringing most claims to an employment tribunal.A careful employer should always keep a full record of what action has been taken to prove compliance with the law. The law surrounding dismissal procedures is far reaching and employers must be aware of this. They normally have to be followed not just where the termination is on the grounds of capability or conduct but also when the employer is contemplating dismissing an employee on the grounds of redundancy and non-renewal of a fixed term contract. Where it is not possible to settle a grievance internally, consider alternative methods of dispute resolution such as mediation, conciliation or arbitration as a viable alternative to legal action.Deductions from WagesUnder the Employment Rights Act 1996 it is generally unlawful for an employer to make any deduction from the wages of a worker unless the worker has agreed to this in writing or it is required by law (e.g. removal of National Insurance and PAYE).Working TimeThe Working Time Regulations 1998 afford basic rights and protections with regard to the number of hours worked. It is unlawful for an employer to require workers who are not governed by sector-specific provisions to work more than an average of 48 hours a week, unless an individual employee has given prior agreement to waive this right.Being ‘on call’ is normally regarded as working time under the law. There are special provisions which apply to shift work, night work, rest breaks, minimum holiday entitlement, sector-specific workers and the hours that can be worked by young workers aged 16 or 17.Pay and BenefitsPromotion procedures and all employee benefits should be kept under review to ensure compliance with the law. As regards length of service-based pay increases, a pay system whereby employees with long service and more experience receive higher pay than those with short service and less experience does not automatically infringe the Equal Pay Act 1970, even though it is likely that the majority of those with longer service are male, but take care! Under the age discrimination legislation, benefits can be awarded on the basis of length of service where the length of service requirement is 5 years or less. However, if a worker who has six years’ or more service claims that they are being discriminated against because they are being paid less than someone with more service, the employer must show that the difference in pay fulfills a genuine business need.Employers are required to recalculate the level of a woman’s maternity pay if a pay rise takes effect at any time between the start of the reference pay period and the end of the maternity leave. An annual change of minimum wage rates occurs on 01 October. Failure to pay the minimum wage can lead to substantial fines.Information and ConsultationThe Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004 give employees of organisations with more than a specified number of employees the legal right to be provided with information about and be consulted on major business decisions which affect them at work.The legislation allows employers flexibility to agree consultation arrangements with employees which suit the individual circumstances of the business.Pre-existing arrangements that are supported by both employees and the employer are allowed to continue.Where there aren’t any existing arrangements, the onus is on employees to ask for information and consultation agreements to be put in place.Employers will be obliged to comply with the request if it is supported by 10 per cent of the workforce.All employers are required to consult on Health and Safety matters, with any elected safety representatives or with employees themselves, and in certain business transfer and redundancy situations.Unless you’re absolutely certain of your legal position, any careful employer would be well advised to seek legal advice from specialist employment solicitors if any of these issues arise.

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