How employers can avoid spurious claims

In the current times of high inflation and resulting hardship, tribunal claims tend to increase as people look for ways to make money. What therefore can businesses do to prevent this happening? 

Employees may well be keeping a keener eye on their work situations to seek out instances where they believe they may have been treated unfairly to try and find ways to make their money stretch further. To stop this happening, it is important not to become complacent.  Claims can have some merit if they involve improperly followed procedures or lack of training or awareness from managers. 

Where do claims come from? 

Claims can come from any area but some of the most common are around holiday pay and discrimination. 

Holiday pay has been a hot topic for employers following the landmark case of Harpur Trust v Brazel last year, in which the Supreme Court confirmed that part-year workers remain entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid leave, and this entitlement cannot be pro-rated to reflect the fact that they do not work for a whole year. Further, it is important to determine when the leave is taken so that holiday pay is accurately calculated.  

The case attracted a lot of media attention, so that many more employees are aware of this ruling. Furthermore, those who regularly work overtime or receive bonuses, commission or allowances may seek to argue that they are owed back holiday pay because their employer hasn’t included these items when calculating their holiday pay. More so than ever employers should ensure they are working out holiday pay correctly, or they risk a claim for unlawful deduction from wages.  

Discrimination is also one of the most frequent employment tribunal claims seen, in particular around sickness absence. Employers and managers need to manage any issues that arise from employees’ sickness absence sensitively. Employers must ensure they facilitate appropriate processes to manage sickness absence and any return to work, and make sure they are mindful of discrimination legislation and the need to make reasonable adjustments when dealing with disabilities or potential disabilities. Claims often arise from a lack of understanding around the symptoms of the employee’s condition or delayed action taken by an employer. However, ignorance will not stand up as a defence. 

What can be done? 

Employers should periodically review employment contracts to ensure they are compliant with any changes in legislation and clearly reflect the way that the employee works. They should also have appropriate and up-to-date workplace policies. This will ensure that employees and managers know what is expected of them and make sure that any emerging issues are dealt with consistently.

Employees should also be set clear objectives and targets to meet within a set timeframe. These should be reviewed regularly within an appraisal system so that employees’ performance can be adequately monitored. Two-way feedback through an appropriate system also prevents matters being allowed to fester unchecked.  

Managers should also receive adequate training to equip them with a basic understanding of the law, the detail and working of your internal processes and an understanding of what workplace bullying and harassment might look like. This ensures they know when to involve HR to prevent a situation escalating and resulting in a claim.

Grievances must be managed effectively – however small, they should never be dismissed either formally or informally.  Disciplinary procedures should be carefully followed, with robust investigations and note taking. 

A failure to act quickly is where we often see employers falling short. It’s important for employers and managers to manage situations as they arise, to ensure they don’t become out of control. Situations almost never improve through delay or burying your head in the sand.  

And finally, employers should beware of not creating a settlement culture where employees threaten action of bringing claims to get a pay-out. Although settlements are normally confidential, it’s important to be realistic and know that employees do talk to each other.  

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