Employment Law Partner Mark Higgins shares his knowledge in a mock tribunal
We ran a successful mock tribunal towards the end of 2013 to highlight the inner workings of that dreaded process: the employment tribunal hearing. With a backlog of cases pressurising a creaking system, employers are counselled to do all they can to avoid going through the tribunal network to resolve disputes. However, this is not always possible. Sometimes, the parties are simply too far apart as regards their expectations for settlement. In other cases, the employer wishes to contest an unmeritorious claim even where to do so is more costly than settlement in order to send a strong signal to its remaining workforce that it is not a soft target.
Nevertheless, participating in an employment tribunal hearing is not for the faint-hearted. Even the boldest employers find giving evidence under cross-examination a stressful and draining experience a fact not truly appreciated unless experienced first hand. So, to give employers a taste of the obtacles they might face, we ran a mock tribunal that attracted HR managers, legal professionals and employers. Why, then, is it vital that employers get a look in at what happens in a tribunal? Mark Higgins took us through the thought process behind the creation of these mock courtroom exchanges: At one level, the scenario is of course entertaining. This is essential in order to engender a good level of engagement with attendees because that brings a greater appreciation of what actually happens at tribunal.
However, that is where the artificiality ends. The show itself serves a very real, and very serious purpose- which is why we always invite a real-life employment judge to preside over the proceedings as if the case were real. No matter how confident an employer feels about their particular case, the dynamics of the hearing together with the complexities of employment law mean they can never be certain as to the outcome.
Familiarising themselves with the process can at least prepare employers for what they can expect and will hopefully prompt them to take steps to avoid ending up there in the first place. In the hearing, it is the employment judge who is in control. However, there is much an employer can do by way of sound employment management and practice to ensure that the risk of tribunal proceedings is minimised.
As I always say at the start of every mock hearing we do the sheer cost of defending employment claims means that the employer has already lost as soon as a claim is made. They face a stark choice of paying a substantial sum to the ex-employee by way of settlement or paying a lawyer equally significant sums to defend the claim.
It is in response to this unsatisfactory dilemma that we have developed our Total Legal Care Scheme. For a fixed annual fee, the scheme provides unlimited advice and guidance on employment and other commercial disputes. The Scheme is backed by an insurance policy covering fees and awards in the event of a claim, giving employers total peace of mind and confidence to adopt the right response to a situation rather than a decision taken on purely economic terms.