Covid-related tribunal claims are on the rise

The coronavirus pandemic is giving rise to an increased number of employment claims which are up 27% as businesses have been plunged into a new way of working, faced new risks in the workplace and in many cases been forced to go through redundancy processes completely remotely.

Research conducted found the number of claims received by employment tribunals jumped by 27 per cent over the last year, equating to 42,392 cases – more than 6,000 higher than the previous 12 months.

This jump represents a significantly faster increase than the 7 per cent rise that occurred between 2017-18 and 2018-19 when the number of employment claims rose from 34,115 to 36,336. The spike in claims is down to the broad range of employment law risks caused by the pandemic and its adverse impact on the economy. It is unrealistic to expect that you can go through such a huge change in working practices and a severe economic downturn without creating a sharp rise in disputes between employees and employers.

The pandemic has created HR challenges for employers that they have never faced before. While employers have often met this huge logistical challenge well, it is not without a cost.

The volume of tribunal claims was “an inevitable aftermath from the first catastrophic Covid hit last year with the full impact yet to be felt. We are yet to see the fallout of further redundancies likely to come from spring onwards of this year,” she says, adding that “poor practice in not managing health, wellbeing and other employee concerns would likely amount to further claims”.

As well as putting pressure on employers, the courts are being strained by this growing backlog of cases. The average waiting time for single claims of unfair dismissal and discrimination is currently around 38 weeks, employers and employees who face long periods of damaging uncertainty ahead of hearings.

Despite delays, employment tribunals are still functioning throughout these latest restrictions, so any internal employee procedures – contentious or not – need to continue happening even if that means conducting meetings online. It has been proven that even difficult and complex investigations can take place remotely.

After a year of working in a remote environment, there is unlikely to be much sympathy for employers – or employees – who now try to use this third lockdown as a reason to delay or frustrate HR processes.

Employee engagement, including transparency over business performance, is one of the best ways to protect a business reputation as an employer. Most employees will appreciate openness and honesty rather than sugar-coated lies.

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