The headline for employment lawyers in relation to George Osborne's speech to the Conservative Party Conference was that, from April 2012, an employee must have two years' continuous service in order to make a claim for unfair dismissal. In addition, Mr Osborne announced that, from April 2013, an employee will need to pay a fee in order to issue a claim in the Employment Tribunal.
The amount of any fee has not yet been finalised, but it has been suggested that a fee of £150 to £250 could be payable to issue a claim, with a further fee of £1,000 being payable when the case is listed for hearing. The fees would then be repaid to the Claimant if they were successful in their claim.
On the face of it, this is good news for employers as it will reduce the likelihood of spurious claims being made by workers in the hope of a commercial settlement.
It is, however, likely that, as with most courts and Tribunals, there will be a means tested fee exemption so that those on lower incomes do not have to pay the fees.
Most claims in Employment Tribunals are made by employees who have resigned or been dismissed and they are generally unemployed. Consequently, it is likely that many employees will be in receipt of benefits, such as means tested Job Seekers' Allowance, which may automatically qualify them for an exemption from the proposed fees. If this is the case, the actual impact on the number of claims made by ex-employees may be minimal.
The real impact of the introduction of Tribunal fees will be felt by those employees with a grievance against their employer, but who wish to remain in employment, for example, maternity and paternity claims. As they retain their employment income at the stage they wish to issue their claim, they will probably be liable for the full Tribunal fees.