Employment issues (work life)

The cost of workplace disputes: A guide to employment tribunals for employers

If not managed effectively, workplace conflict can be hugely costly for employers and lead to employment tribunal claims. According to new research from ACAS, nearly 10 million people experienced conflict at work in 2018/19. As a result, close to 900,000 took time off and nearly half a million resigned. In addition, 300,000 employees were dismissed due to conflict. According to the report, the management and resolution of such conflicts costs employers a staggering £28.5 billion every year.

Grievances, disciplinary action and even employment tribunal claims cannot always be avoided. However investment in early intervention and measures to promote effective resolution of disputes can save businesses time and money and reduce the risk of potentially damaging litigation.

What are common reasons for employment tribunal claims?

How to avoid a legal dispute

What happens if I am taken to an employment tribunal?

Should I offer my employee a settlement agreement?

What are the types of employment tribunal hearing?

What happens when a grievance is upheld at an employment tribunal?

What are common reasons for employment tribunal claims?

Common claims pursued through the employment tribunals include: 

  • unfair dismissal
  • disputes relating to redundancy
  • breach of contract
  • discrimination (for example on the grounds of disability, gender, race, sexual orientation or other protected characteristic)

Managing conflict in the workplace: How to avoid a legal dispute

If workplace issues are not dealt with promptly, they may escalate rapidly and result in legal claims against you. According to a CIPD survey, one key thing employees want from their employers when they raise an issue is simply to be listened to. 

Just under a third (31%) of respondents to the survey said their employer didn’t take them seriously when they raised an issue, while nearly half (48%) said they felt their employer had prioritised the other party’s interests over their own.

Listen

One of the most important things you can do is take issues raised seriously and give any employee who is angry or frustrated the time they need to talk about what has happened. Speaking with them privately, actively listening to their views and acting upon the complaint swiftly can be key to preventing disputes and conflict from intensifying. 

If a formal grievance procedure or disciplinary process is required to effectively deal with the matter, then it should be initiated as appropriate with careful regard for your internal procedures and ACAS Code and guidance as applicable. 

Take advice

Employers should take professional HR and legal advice at an early stage to ensure they can make informed choices about how to manage conflict and disputes effectively and in accordance with current employment law requirements. Employers may unwittingly fall foul of the law when they fail to seek legal advice, for example behaving in a way they do not realise may be discriminatory. 

Having an employment law solicitor on hand who has an in-depth understanding of the complexities of your case can go a long way to solving grievances before they have a chance to escalate. Even if the relationship between the parties breaks down, legal professionals will ensure you conduct yourself in a way that gives employees few grounds for taking their complaint before an employment tribunal. 

Be fair

It is imperative that you can demonstrate a fair process has been followed when dealing with the dispute or grievance and that any decision makers consider matters objectively and based on the evidence before them. Your solicitor can advise you on how best to deal with the issue in a neutral and unbiased manner. 

Keep a paper trail

Whether you are investigating a grievance, initiating disciplinary proceedings against an employee or dismissing a staff member, you should keep a clear paper trail as evidence. This includes records of meeting invitations and detailed notes of what was said, in addition to any emails sent or received. 

If the case does go before a Tribunal, you will be able to provide hard evidence that you have acted appropriately. 

What happens if I am taken to an employment tribunal?

The employment tribunal process

To submit a claim, your employee will normally first have to notify ACAS that they intend to do so. They will try and help you resolve the issue through a process called Early Conciliation, whereby they support both parties to negotiate settlement terms without the dispute going all the way to an employment tribunal.  

If neither party wants to attempt Early Conciliation, or the process fails, then your employee can then submit an ET1 claim form to the employment tribunal to which you will have 28 days to respond with your defence. 

Our employment law solicitors have many years’ experience in helping employers respond successfully to Employment Tribunal claims, assisting them to prepare the documentation and evidence needed to respond to the claim and representing them at any ensuing Tribunal hearings. 

Should I offer my employee a settlement agreement?

A settlement agreement (formerly known as a compromise agreement) can be used to resolve a dispute and allow all parties to draw a line under matters and part company on a dignified basis. 

The agreement typically offers your employee a severance payment in exchange for their agreement not to take any further legal action against you. However, it is important to take legal advice to ensure this is a viable option in the circumstances and how best to make an offer as you may otherwise prejudice your position. 

If you offer a settlement agreement without following the right process, and your employee rejects it and goes on to make an employment tribunal claim anyway, any conversations you had regarding the settlement agreement can potentially (but not always) be used as evidence against you. 

What are the types of employment tribunal hearing?

Claims that are not settled or withdrawn come before the tribunal for a formal hearing.

There are two main types of hearing:

Preliminary hearing: this is usually a short hearing to address any issues so that the case can proceed smoothly before a full hearing, this may include:

  • clarifying the issues in the case
  • establishing what documents and or witnesses are required
  • deciding questions of entitlement to bring or defend

Full hearing: is when all the evidence is heard:

  • decides whether the claim succeeds or fails
  • and, if it succeeds, what remedy is appropriate

What happens when a grievance is upheld at an employment tribunal?

If you lose your employment tribunal case, the tribunal will order specific steps to be undertaken at a ‘remedies’ hearing. This could include: 

  • reinstating your employee
  • paying out compensation
  • paying for loss of earnings/damages

If you fail to take these steps, you can be taken to court and forced to comply. Usually, though not always, the parties bear their own costs. 

It is important to remember that the likelihood of winning is greatly increased with professional legal support. 

Supportive employment law professionals

Whether you are looking for support in getting the correct policies and procedures in place, dealing with a formal grievance or responding to an employment tribunal claim, we can help. We know that every case is different, so our advice will be tailored to your circumstances. 

If you are in a dispute with an employee, you need to ensure things are dealt with without delay. Taking legal advice promptly could mean the difference between winning your case and damaging your business’s reputation. 

Give us a call for a confidential discussion about how we can help you defend yourself, your business and your reputation.

Our specialist lawyers are based in:

  • Cambridgeshire: Cambridge
  • Essex: Brentwood, Chelmsford, and Saffron Walden
  • Hertfordshire: Bishop's Stortford and Royston 

But we can help you wherever you are in England and Wales.

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