Top 10 Ways to Avoid an Employment Tribunal- A UK Perspective

The 2009 Employment Tribunal Service Annual Report reveals how UK employers have been exposed to a substantial 56 percent increase in complaints from employees during the period April 2009 to March 2010.

It reports a significant increase in the type of complaints, including unfair dismissal, redundancy pay, breach of contract, age discrimination, unauthorised deduction and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. While equal pay and redundancy (failure to inform and consult) complaints have decreased slightly they remain well represented within the tribunals workload. The maximum awarded for a race discrimination case topped £1,353,432 ($2,173,443.11 USD) with an average award of £2,470 ($3,968.70 USD) awarded to age discrimination claimants.

In dealing with employee problems, employers frequently have reasonable substantive grounds for dealing with such issues. However, when employers end up facing a tribunal this is invariably the result of a serious deficiency of up to date personnel documentation and personnel policies including compliant, business driven contracts of employment, failure to carry out fair procedures, and lack of knowledge about the proper handling of HR issues.

So here are 10 tips for preparing and installing a good management practice programme of personnel documentation and procedures that will proactively help you as an employer avoid these expensive and costly pitfalls:

  • Produce compliant contracts of employment including the statutory written statement of particulars. This provides employees with the statutory and contractual written particulars about their terms and conditions of employment.
  • Create formalised company personnel policies and procedures. These should include clear written statements about standards of employer and employee obligations and expected behaviour, together with the steps about how to go about carrying out the appropriate procedures.
  • Make sure that personnel policies and procedures are contained within a readily accessible and up to date staff handbook. This will improve staff communications and provide further details about terms and conditions of employment, accepted standards of behaviour and personnel procedures within the contract of employment, at the same time reducing management downtime.
  • Make clear disciplinary rules and procedures. This enables the employer to draw to the attention of an employee any issue of concern he or she has about their employment. It will also ensure that staff are aware of the rules affecting their employment including any first offence that may lead to their summary dismissal.
  • Make clear grievance and appeals procedures. This enables the employee to draw to the attention of the employer any issue of concern they have about their employment at the earliest opportunity and should be dealt with by the employer in a timely manner. The appeals procedure importantly contributes to a fair procedure by providing that any disciplinary decision about an employee may be reviewed at a higher level.
  • Put together redundancy consultation procedures. This will ensure that the employee and employer have considered any suitable alternative employment options within the business before a decision is made by the employer to dismiss on the grounds of redundancy. It will also help to ensure that any subsequent selection for redundancy dismissal qualifies as a fair dismissal.
  • Provide company and job induction training. These are vital programmes for influencing long term employee commitment and meaningful contributions as well as early and effective employee performance. It will also help the employer to fulfil its health and safety obligations for employee competency.
  • Provide personnel skills training for managers and supervisors. This will ensure that managers are aware of their accountability for people management issues and are equipped with the knowledge and personnel skills to perform effectively their line management role.
  • Put together staff assessment and development programmes. These will monitor, involve, and motivate staff into continually improving performance and will at the same time raise awareness of how their contribution fits into the overall aims and objectives of the business.
  • Provide staff training and refresher training covering discrimination, harassment and health & safety. This will help to create a positive workplace culture that contributes to effective employee performance and good employee relations. It will also help minimise the risks of unlimited liabilities faced by employers arising out of allegations or deficiencies in these potentially costly areas.

But be warned - simply installing a library of paperwork to gather dust on the office shelf is not a quick-fix solution. Managing employee performance requires a good grasp of personnel skills, and a professional approach to people management.

Recognising that employees are important assets (rather than unwelcome overheads) is integral to effective employee performance and the achievement of business objectives. Proactive HR management will payback in improved employee performance and commitment, bringing significant returns to your business.

By putting into practice our top 10 tips you can create a sound HR framework and a company culture aimed at growing and developing your business. By focussing on the neglected issue of internal PR, you can take a positive step towards promoting your business as an employer of choice.