What business issues could lead to an employment tribunal?

Blogs 3 May 2018

Working hours, working environment, performance, and discriminatory conduct by other employees are just a few of the many issues that may occur in the workplace. If you’re not careful and mishandle these problems, you may make matters much worse and potentially cause unhappy employees to take a case to an employment tribunal.

To help you manage employee relations well and limit the risk of disputes escalating into legal action, we have highlighted below some useful points and best practice measures.

No contract or an unclear one

Not having a contract of employment or having one which is unclear may lead to confusion regarding expectations of how the employment relationship between the employer and employee should develop and prosper. Lack of clarity can be a key contributing factor that causes a dispute to escalate externally to an employment tribunal.  

From the outset of any working relationship, it’s good practice to treat the employment contract as an essential document that you can fall back on, one which provides clear details of what your expectations are for the role which has been offered and what you will provide to the employee in return.

With that in mind, your contracts should be clear, well-written, and unambiguous, stating the rules your staff should follow, so that nothing is open to interpretation.

Outdated contracts

In addition to your employment contracts being clear, you should also make sure they are all up to date. For instance, you might decide to extend your operating hours, but one member of your staff decides to stick to their original working times because that’s what’s in their contract.

You should ensure that any changes you make to the business operation which impact on working terms are reflected in the contract of employment. Remember at all times to take staff through an appropriate period of consultation before introducing the change and amendment to the contract.

Acting slowly or late     

If an employee makes a complaint, such as an accusation of discrimination, it’s important to act immediately and carry out an investigation, to ensure that you know all the facts as soon as possible and can then take the right course of action quickly. Taking your time when responding to an issue of this nature, or not acting quickly enough, may lead to the complainant taking further action.

Not following Governmental codes of practice

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is a statutory body that provides free, impartial information and advice to employees and employers on how to manage workplace relations well.

ACAS has produced a code of practice for dealing with disciplinary and grievance issues, as well as various guidance booklets in relation to handling redundancies and other employee relation matters. When dealing with disciplinary and grievance issues you should follow its codes of practice to ensure you’re taking the right measures to avoid a dispute being taken to a tribunal.

The codes of practice are also referred to by employment tribunals, as the benchmark for the minimum procedure that an employer should adopt to ensure that a fair procedure has been followed when dealing with either a disciplinary or grievance issue.

On this basis, if a dispute ends up before an employment tribunal it is more than likely to reflect badly on any employer who chooses to follow a process that falls short of the minimum best practices measures set down in the ACAS Code.

Poor handling of inadequate performance

When tackling poor employee performance issues, it’s important to identify the areas where the employing is failing to achieve expected standards, set out what success in the role resembles and what measures you will put in place to help the employee achieve your expected standards.  Dealing with performance problems early on,  and holding meetings with the employee, can often turn around underperformance and get the employee back on track to adding value to the business operation. 

If you do decide to dismiss an employee, you should be able to prove that you have done all you can to avoid their contract being terminated.

Not having professional help

If a dispute takes place or a grievance is raised in your business, it’s wise to seek professional help. Having qualified and experienced assistance can ensure you get the right advice to make the right decisions quickly and effectively. This can help resolve a dispute in a calm, fast and dignified way, preventing it from developing into a bigger problem.

Supporting you through staff disputes

Employment law is a large and complex area, and it can be difficult to keep all your employees happy – even when you sit on the right side of the law.

With our expert services in Employment Protection, we can provide you with the right help and advice to support you through a dispute, reduce the risk of cases going to an employment tribunal, and support you if it does.

  • Round-the-clock legal advice from qualified lawyers via our employment advice helpline
  • Employment documents that can be customised and downloaded from our Online Legal Hub
  • Insurance to protect you and specialist solicitors and barristers to represent you at an employment tribunal

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HR advice you can trust

FSB Employment Protection is your go-to for HR advice, available 24/7. Speak to employment solicitors for advice, download template documents and have peace of mind with employment tribunal insurance.