Discrimination claims expected to rise in 2012

Changes to employment legislation introduced today, Friday 6 April 2012, are likely to lead to an increase in the number of discrimination claims from disgruntled employees.

The qualifying period for claiming unfair dismissal increases from one year to two years, applying to anyone employed from today onwards.

“This is likely to mean employees seek ways of circumventing the new legislation and find other grounds on which to sue. They may well look at bringing a claim for discrimination on grounds of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability, age or whistleblowing”, says Tom Street of doihaveacase.co.uk.

One of the objectives of the employment changes is to reduce the pressure on an overburdened tribunal system. However, if discrimination claims increase during 2012 as a result of the changes, the net effect is that the workload for the tribunals is unlikely to subside.

Figures show that there are around 218,000 tribunal claims in the UK system, which has risen significantly – and understandably – since the start of the recession in 2008. In the year 2010-11 there were 47,900 unfair dismissal claims, and the Government expects this figure to drop by around 2,000 a year as a result of the changes. Only time will tell.

Tom Street continues, “The overall consensus is that the changes are likely to have an adverse effect on employees’ rights, with the possibility of unethical employers choosing to sack staff with less than two years’ service rather than follow correct redundancy procedures.”

Unions may also have a field day with the new legislation arguing that it puts young people and women at a disadvantage, as these groups are less likely to accrue two years’ service.

The changes mean a double-edged sword for businesses. On the one hand, the CBI and British Chambers of Commerce argue that firms will have greater confidence in taking on new employees.

John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce commented, “Doubling the qualifying period for unfair dismissal to two years sends the right message to business, and shows that the government is committed to reducing the regulatory burden faced by UK firms.”

Conversely, Tom Street says that businesses could actually be frightened of taking on new staff as the cost of losing a discrimination case could be more costly.

“The maximum compensatory award for employees claiming straightforward unfair dismissal is £72,300, whereas compensation for discrimination compensation is unlimited.”