Unscrupulous or Unsavoury?

Today, the Telegraph published comments attributed to Matthew Hancock, Minister of State for Education, concerning the recent, rather humongous decline in employment tribunal claims. A drop of 79% since the introduction of fees in order to bring a claim.

I’ve blogged my thoughts before on the implications of the decline, and I won’t repeat myself here. But I do want to address some of the comments in today’s Telegraph.

Hancock appears to feel that the decline of claims is a massive success. ‘Unscrupulous workers caused havoc by inundating companies with unfounded claims of mistreatment, discrimination, or worse. Like Japanese knotweed, the soaring numbers of tribunal cases dragged more and more companies into its grip, squeezing the life and energy from Britain’s wealth creators’.

He went further and said that the tribunal system ‘was being ruthlessly exploited by people trying to make a fast buck. Increasingly the real victims were the businesses targeted by bogus claimants’.

It’s true that the number of claims have, prior to the introduction of fees, been rising for years. However, once you get underneath those increases much of it is driven by multiple claims.

During the recent claim drop off, there were 77% fewer sex discrimination claims. 58% fewer unfair discrimination claims.

To take just one example. Research was commission by the current government in 2013 into the current state of discrimination suffered by women during and after pregnancy. According to the press release that accompanied the launch of the research, 1 in 20 people who had contacted the Equality Advisory and Support Services in the previous year had done so concerning pregnancy discrimination. Were all of these callers seeking to make a fast buck out of their blameless employer?

For some time tribunals have had the power to make a costs awards where a claim is believed to be vexatious or malicious. The fact that there were only 522 costs awards in favour of respondents in the 2012/13 out of over 190,000 claims heard, suggests that perhaps the issue wasn’t as big a problem as Hancock would like us to believe.

The median award for unfair dismissal for the same period was less than 5K. This is hardly the stuff of financial dreams for most people. Let us also not forget, that unless we get into injury to feelings type stuff, most of the compensation awarded in tribunal is loss based. In other words just putting people back to the place they would have been but for the breach of employment law.

Here’s the thing. Some claims are misguided. Some are malicious. Some are made to make a point, in anger, or in fear. Some have no basis in law. I’ve seen them all. And when this happens, I know only too well the impact that this can have on the people involved, not to mention the annual budget.

But not all claims.

We don’t have a handy percentage to tell us how many claims are bogus. But I do know this. Some employers are shoddy. Some employers ignore employment law. Some employers treat their employees unfairly, discriminatorily, illegally. Within some organisations, there is bullying, harassment and discrimination of every conceivable sort. And there simply must be a place for those people to go for recourse.

The employee subjected to racial harassment must have access to justice. The employee sacked for blowing the whistle must have access to justice. And the pregnant woman made redundant straight after maternity leave. And the job applicant who doesn’t get the job because of their disability. And so on.

To suggest that the vast majority of claimants are unscrupulous is neither fair, justifiable or accurate. To pain employers as victims of money driven claimants just isn’t backed up by the evidence. To suggest that a 79% decline of claims is a great success, is nothing short of distasteful.