Wednesday 6 April 2011

Mediation the key to resolution in employment tribunals

A leading employment lawyer says that the cost of tribunals for employers could dramatically fall if plans go ahead to reform tribunal procedures.

Tim Jones is head of Higgs & Sons’ employment team and a trained mediator with ADR Group, Talk Mediation and the Association of Midlands Mediators.

He is an experienced advocate and has appeared in Employment Tribunals nationally for clients including Marstons.

He believes that if the proposed changes go ahead, the costs for owners of small to medium sized businesses could fall substantially.

“Tribunal cases have soared in recent years and government proposals are being brought forward to reduce the volume of tribunal hearings by encouraging more workplace-based mediation to resolve disputes.

“The objective is to encourage solutions out of court so that business owners can avoid time-consuming and often expensive court appearances. In addition to this, the Government obviously wants to cut its costs in these difficult financial times as the annual budget for employment tribunals nationally is in the region of £80 million.

“Mediation must be part of the process. For employers, early resolution is good for everyone.

It cuts expensive court time and allows businesses to get on with what they are good at – creating jobs and making money.”

In the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation paper a number of more business-friendly proposals are put forward. These include:

• Increasing the qualification period for claiming unfair dismissal from one year to two, which should reduce the number of claims by 3,700-4,700 (6.4%-8.2% of last year’s total number?).

• Charging claimants a fee to lodge tribunal claims, and requiring all claims to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) first, before proceeding to the employment tribunal, which could potentially reduce annual claims by another 12,000.

• Introducing a more flexible strike-out power and allow judges to issue a deposit order at any stage of the proceedings.

• Shorter hearings, for example with statements taken as read and more judges sitting alone.

According to Tim, the cost savings for employers could be dramatic: “An average employment tribunal hearing could cost upwards of £20,000. If mediation were brought in at an early stage, matters could be resolved for as little as a few thousand pounds.

“I would encourage employers to welcome these new changes.”

The consultation period for Resolving Workplace Disputes ends on 20 April 2011.

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