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Labour ‘Employment Tribunal’ Reforms Plans 2024

July 05, 2024 | By: Sean Douglas

In this article, we will explore Labour's proposed reforms to the Employment Tribunal system and their potential implications for businesses and employees. These reforms could include extending time periods for lodging claims, increasing caps on compensation, and introducing tougher penalties for breaches of employment law. There may also be penalties against individual directors for non-compliance. These changes could lead to more stringent enforcement of employment laws and higher costs for employers who fail to comply. Without adequate protection employers may therefore face an increase in Employment Tribunal claims and higher financial penalties. Non-compliance could lead to significant reputational damage and loss of trust among employees.

The Current State of Employment Tribunals:

In 2023/24, employment tribunal receipts and disposals have increased by 7% and 16% respectively compared to the same period in 2022/23. The total for open cases increased by 3% to 653,000 over the same period. This rise in cases underscores the mounting pressure on the tribunal system, which is already grappling with significant delays.

This surge in tribunal activity highlights the critical need for effective solutions to manage the caseload efficiently and reduce delays. (Stats via Official ‘Tribunal Statistics’ https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/tribunals-statistics-quarterly-january-to-march-2024/tribunal-statistics-quarterly-january-to-march-2024).

Labour’s proposed reforms aim to address these challenges, but the effectiveness and practicality of these measures remain to be seen.

Overview of Labour's Proposed Reforms:

Labour's proposed reforms to the Employment Tribunal system aim to provide greater protection for employees by extending time periods for lodging claims, increasing caps on compensation, and introducing tougher penalties for breaches of employment law. Additionally, there may be penalties against individual directors for non-compliance. These changes signal a significant shift towards more stringent enforcement of employment laws, potentially resulting in higher costs for employers who fail to comply.

Extended Time Periods for Lodging Claims:

One of the key reforms proposed is the extension of time periods for lodging claims. Currently, employees have three months from the date of the incident to file a claim with the Employment Tribunal. Labour's reform could see this period extended, giving employees more time to seek legal advice and gather necessary evidence. This extension aims to make the process more accessible, particularly for those who may be unaware of their rights or are initially hesitant to pursue legal action against their employer.

With more time to file as claim via ACAS, businesses may see an increase in the number of claims lodged against them. Employees who might have missed the deadline under the current system will now have a second chance to seek ‘justice’. Employers will need to maintain detailed records and ensure that all employment practices comply with the law to mitigate the risk of future claims and extended filing periods could lead to prolonged uncertainty and potentially higher legal costs as businesses prepare for and respond to a greater number of claims.

Increased Caps on Compensation:

Another significant change is the proposed increase in caps on compensation for successful claims. This adjustment aims to ensure that the compensation awarded is more reflective of the harm suffered by employees.

Higher compensation caps mean that businesses found guilty of breaching employment laws could face substantial financial liabilities depending on the severity of the claim. This may require companies to reassess their financial reserves and insurance policies to cover potential claims. The threat of higher compensation payouts may incentivise businesses to adhere more strictly to employment laws, fostering a more equitable workplace environment. Companies might need to review and enhance their human resources policies, provide better training for managers, and ensure that any potential issues are addressed promptly and effectively to avoid costly claims.

Tougher Penalties for Breaches of Employment Law:

Introducing tougher penalties for breaches of employment law is another cornerstone of Labour's proposed reforms. These penalties could include fines, mandatory training, or other corrective measures designed to enforce compliance more rigorously.

Tougher penalties can lead to significant reputational damage, impacting customer trust and employee morale. Businesses must be proactive in maintaining compliance with tto protect their reputation, to avoid penalties.

Penalties Against Individual Directors:

Labour's reforms also propose penalties against individual directors for non-compliance, which could include personal fines or disqualification from serving as a director in the future.

This change would place greater personal responsibility on directors, potentially leading to more diligent oversight of employment practices and policies. With this in mind, directors may take a more hands-on approach in ensuring that their companies comply with employment laws, resulting in a culture of compliance from the top down.

Effects on Colleagues:

The proposed reforms could have significant effects on employees, both current and future.

Employees would benefit from greater protection under the law, with more opportunities to seek redress for grievances and higher potential compensation.

While on the face of it the changes will lead to additional risks for employers, a stronger emphasis on compliance and ethical behaviour could lead to a more positive and inclusive workplace culture, attracting top talent and reducing turnover.

Labour’s Proposed Digital Reforms:

Labour's primary solution to alleviate the pressure on tribunals involves further digitizing the claims process. This builds on the previous government's efforts, which introduced the 'MyHMCTS' system for submitting claims and responses and corresponding with the tribunal. The digitization aims to streamline processes, reduce paperwork, and improve overall efficiency.

However, it remains uncertain what additional measures Labour could implement to enhance the tribunal process further. While digitization is a step in the right direction, it may not be sufficient to address the root causes of delays and backlogs. Labour also plans to issue 'best practice' guidance for employers regarding workers' rights, hoping to reduce the number of claims by promoting better employer practices. Despite these efforts, the overall impact on reducing tribunal claims may be minimal.

Conservative Government’s Fee Proposal:

The Conservative government recently consulted on re-introducing nominal fees for bringing tribunal claims to help manage costs. They emphasized that these low-level fees are not intended to deter claims but to offset administrative expenses. It is unlikely that Labour will pursue this plan, as they appear focused on other reforms.

Labour’s Enforcement Proposals:

Labour's other significant proposal is the creation of a new state enforcement body, potentially called the Fair Work Agency. This agency would be tasked with enforcing workers' rights and fining employers who break the law. By shifting from individual enforcement through the tribunal process to state enforcement, Labour aims to reduce the number of tribunal claims. However, the specific remit and effectiveness of this new agency remain unclear. It is likely to focus on exploitative practices that do not currently result in many tribunal claims, thereby targeting a different aspect of workplace enforcement.

Conclusion:

Labour's proposed Employment Tribunal reforms represent a significant shift towards protecting employees and ensuring compliance with employment laws. While these changes could result in increased costs and operational adjustments for businesses, they may also present an opportunity to foster a fairer, more equitable workplace. Employers must proactively prepare for these potential changes by reviewing and enhancing their policies, ensuring thorough documentation, and promoting a culture of compliance and ethical behaviour. By doing so, businesses can mitigate risks, protect their reputation, and create a positive environment for all employees.

These changes will likely increase the need for organisations to seek external employment law advice and protection. We anticipate a rise in calls from our clients looking to utilise our Advice Guarantee’ more frequently. This advice guarantee protects businesses by providing cover for Preparation and Representation in an Employment Tribunal and covering awards and compensations as long in any case where they have worked with us and applied our advice. 

HR and Employment Law can be extremely tricky to navigate and  without an in house solicitor it can prove very difficult to abide by and keep up to date and comply with  ever changing legislation. Employment Law issues can soon snowball if they are not dealt with effectively.  The subsequent claims could easily land you in legal trouble and worse, hit your business hard financially. If you need more information about the upcoming changes or how we can help and protect your organisation please call us on 03333 215 005 or directly email us via: info@wirehouse-es.com.

About the Author
Sean Douglas
Sean Douglas
Sean Douglas, Author at Wirehouse Employer Services