Employees are what makes a business tick but what happens when the employment relationship goes wrong? Sometimes workplace relationships break down, issues with performance or conduct arise, disputes develop, and if these can’t be resolved internally or result in a dismissal, a tribunal claim may follow.
Dealing with an employment tribunal claim can be costly and involve substantial management time and work, as well as being worrying for colleagues who are involved as witnesses, but there are steps you can take to minimise the chances of receiving a claim.
Contracts and Policies
When it comes to avoiding employment claims and protecting your business, there are no easy answers, however putting in place effective employment contracts and HR policies and applying them consistently is the first and most important step.
The second step is to keep those contracts and policies up to date. Employment is an area of law where the goalposts are constantly being moved or removed, so a regular review of your contracts and policies will ensure that you remain compliant with current legal standards and requirements and minimise the risk of employment tribunal claims.
Contracts and policies don’t work in isolation. Ensuring that your managers are well prepared on how to, and more importantly how not to, deal with formal grievances, investigations and disciplinary hearings is a crucial step in preventing a straightforward matter from escalating into a tribunal complaint. There are a number of clear procedural stages that need to be carried out for a dismissal to meet the legal test of fairness – providing training sessions for managers will equip them with the relevant knowledge to follow the appropriate procedure.
Training for employees on equality and diversity and the standards of behaviour you expect in the workplace is also important – conduct that some employees consider to be harmless may in fact make others feel very uncomfortable at work and may be unlawful.
Equality and diversity training is also essential as part of a “reasonable steps” defence for your organisation in the event that a member of staff is harassed by a rogue employee.
The Human Element
An informal face to face meeting with an employee who has a concern, or about whom you have a concern, can work wonders if handled in a sensitive way. Where appropriate, a friendly, honest chat in the early stages can resolve a complaint before it develops into something more formal and if an employee feels they have been listened to and dealt with reasonably, they may be less likely to take the matter further. Similarly a word to the wise may lead to an improvement in performance or conduct without the need to take formal disciplinary action – if the problem persists you still have the option of moving to a more formal stage of the disciplinary process with the advantage that this will come as less of a surprise to the employee.
The Letter from the Tribunal
What happens if, despite your best efforts, you receive an employment tribunal claim?
You will often (but not always) have advance notice of an incoming claim in the form of a telephone call from an ACAS conciliator – all potential claimants must contact ACAS to discuss early conciliation before lodging a claim although there is no obligation on either party to pursue conciliation.
In any event you should be on the look out for the arrival of a claim form – note that forms are not always sent to the right place or person so alert all managers.
Once the claim form lands, it is essential to take advice and act quickly – the time limit for responding to a claim is 28 days from the date it is sent out to you. Ignoring a claim is not an option, a failure to lodge a defence is likely to result in a default judgment being entered against you. You will need to gather all the relevant evidence and speak to the people involved as soon as possible so you are in a position to lodge the best possible defence.
Our expert employment team here at Pannone Corporate can provide bespoke in house training and carry out contract and policy reviews, as well as supporting and advising you to defend tribunal claims. If you’d like to discuss any of these matters, or for advice on HR and employment law issues more generally, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 0800 131 3355 or fill out our contact form.