Employment tribunals: are they overwhelmed?
Everyone expected an increase in employment tribunal applications after the Supreme Court case in 2017 ended fees. But what they forgot to factor in was that employment tribunals were already stretched because of funding cuts.
The number of applications continues to increase – up 25% this year – and tribunals are getting close to not being able to cope. Some applicants are suffering a record eight month wait before their cases are heard. Delay causes stress and memories to fade, and key witnesses can resign or retire from an employer’s business.
Can the Acas Early Conciliation process help?
In its annual report, Acas reported significant growth in take up of early conciliation. The process requires applicants to inform Acas before starting a tribunal claim. They are then offered early conciliation, where an Acas conciliator approaches both parties to seek a resolution.
Early conciliation is impartial and is simply an attempt to save both parties’ time, worry and expense.
How do other areas of law deal with tribunal hearings?
Early conciliation is not part of the tribunal process. In order to stem the flow of applications going to tribunal hearings, we could look at how the civil or family courts deal with tribunal hearings. In the civil courts, any party not prepared to try alternative dispute resolution can be penalised, and in the family court parties must, in most cases, attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before starting proceedings.
If mediation is not pursued, or does not work, a further opportunity to reach an early settlement is built into the family court process, namely at the financial dispute resolution hearing. This is a Judge-led conciliation appointment and there are also conciliation appointments with Cafcass before the start of Children Act cases. It could be that employment law should follow the model of family law.
With employment tribunals full to bursting, it could be that employment disputes are more likely to be dealt with in settlement agreements containing controversial non-disclosure agreements.
How we can help
If you are facing an employment tribunal or are simply weighing up your options, our employment solicitors can help. Our expert lawyers in Bristol and South Gloucestershire can provide you with practical, common-sense legal advice.