Supreme Court rules Employment Tribunal Fees ‘Unlawful’

September 3, 2017

In July this year the Supreme Court ruled that the fees charged to individuals who wished to bring an Employment Tribunal Claim were unlawful. Following their introduction in 2013, there was a 70% drop in cases going to tribunals, suggesting that they have been a significant disincentive to many employees.

What does this mean for vet practices?

In spite of the fees, we have actually seen an increase in attempts to bring claims against practices in the past two years. Without the fees as a barrier, further increases are likely. In response, we will now pay the first £1,000 + vat in legal fees if our clients have to defend a tribunal claim and use our associate solicitors.

No-one is immune from a potential claim and, just like an investigation by the Royal College, defending a claim can be costly and time-consuming, even if you have done nothing wrong and, ultimately, win the case. Without a fee to discourage them, there is more temptation for a disgruntled employee to ‘have a go’, particularly if they are encouraged by news reports of huge payouts. We are aware of cases of ex-employees, who were dismissed for poor attitude or misconduct, ‘discovering’ a disability and claiming discrimination.

How can you protect yourself?

A key point is to have a paper trail. In a tribunal, it doesn’t matter how sympathetic and accommodating to an employee you have been, unless you have the evidence to prove it. Equally, if someone has a long history of bad attitude or sub-standard work, you need to have it documented. What have you done to tackle the problems?

In some circumstances where the working relationship has broken down, negotiating a settlement agreement may be the best way forward – the employee receives a sum of money and an agreed reference, and loses any possibility of subsequently bringing a claim against the practice. This can be an excellent solution for all parties, but needs to be handled appropriately or you will lose the legal protection it can afford you – seek professional advice, this is not something to attempt unaided.

You may like to cross-reference this with the advice in our May briefing: