As the government announces its plans to help employers develop their mediation skills, ACAS express their concerns on what the introduction of Tribunal fees could mean for employees.
Last year the government announced its plans to introduce a fee for bringing a case to Tribunal. It was hoped that this would discourage some of the many claims that have been responsible for the vast workload of Tribunals as well as reduce some of the pressure on smaller employers. Unfortunately, ACAS have reason to believe that some employers will rely on the fact that employees will not wish to pay those fees to neglect employment issues.
Whilst the government has introduced the idea of mediation as an alternative dispute resolution method, ACAS fears that their plans will have little to no effect on some employers who will simply let employment issues fester. ACAS claim that there will be some employers who bank on the fact that disgruntled employees will not have the necessary funds to risk paying for Tribunal fees. Andrew Wareing of ACAS has warned that the fees might cause employers to be more blasé about dealing with employment issues when they first arise.
Not endeavouring to deal with the grievances of employees as and when they first arise increases the likelihood of them worsening overtime. This would inevitably have an undesirable effect on employee's work satisfaction and motivation. It could lead to other negative scenarios such as an increase in the number of staff calling in sick. Mr Wareing also added that employers would only really consider resolving disputes when they were sure that an employee was willing to pay the Tribunal fee. The extent to which these problems are likely to arise will become more clear when we are fully informed of the fees.
Generally, it is always best to seek to solve any disagreement as soon as possible before the issue worsens beyond easy repair. It has been in the interests of an employer to seek a quick resolution so as to avoid the time and costs he might have to expend should the issue progress all the way to tribunal. The number of cases which settle outside of court just before they reach the hearing is testament to the fact that employers have been unwilling to take the risk of tribunal in the past. However, the fees now means that that risk is further away than it once was. Anyone now wishing to take an employer to Tribunal has more to think about, with a cost benefit analysis becoming more important than ever.
The Ministry of Justice is currently preparing a consultation on the fees which were proposed by Business Secretary Vince Cable last year. ACAS are also preparing a formal submission for the consultation which is due to end on 6 March.