Warning for Mersey firms amid sharp rise in unfair dismissal claims

Since employment tribunal fees were scrapped in 2017 the number of cases has soared almost 25% and Merseyside lawyer Lindsey Knowles says too many firms are too lax. Tony McDonough reports

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Firms often make the mistake of sacking an employee without following proper procedures


Unfair dismissal claims have rocketed by almost 25% since fees were abolished in 2017 and too many Merseyside firms are leaving themselves open to costly claims, a leading lawyer says.

In 2013, the Ministry of Justice introduced charges for industrial tribunals to cut down on malicious, frivolous and vexatious claims encouraged by opportunist lawyers. However, the trade union Unison successful challenged the fees in court two years ago.

Annual figures from the Ministry of Justice show that in 2018/2019, there were 660 claims that received compensation for unfair dismissal (up 23% compared to 2017/18). The maximum award was £948,000 while the average amount awarded was £14,000.

Now Lindsey Knowles, head of employment law at Merseyside law firm Kirwans said she regularly works on unfair dismissal cases where employment is terminated without a fair procedure or reason.

She adds that such outcomes could have been easily prevented had employers followed some simple processes; and says that many firms don’t realise they are more at risk than ever before of being hit with a claim. The result, she said, could lead to damaged reputations, increased insurance premiums, and in the worst-case scenario, the bankruptcy of the company.

“As the figures show, a successful claim could be devastating for smaller companies, yet many business owners still aren’t taking precautions to avoid this type of claim,” explained Ms Knowles.

Most responsible employers won’t recognise that it’s not just about protecting themselves against claims; it’s also about acting in an ethical and proper way towards their employees.

Lindsey Knowles, and employment law partner at Kirwans


“By taking the proper steps to ensure all the correct processes and procedures are in place, they won’t just be creating a defence against claims, they’ll also be making their employees feel more secure by knowing that these mechanisms are in place.”

Here, she sets out some key steps that all employers should take to protect themselves against employment claims:

  • Ensure all employees have up-to-date employment contracts. If you make your disciplinary procedures part of an employment contract then make sure you follow them, or the employee could make a breach of contract claim against you.
  • Make sure disciplinary procedures follow the Acas Code of Practice. The Employment Act 2002 made disciplinary procedures a legal requirement, so it’s vital that you have them in place. And while it’s not a legal requirement to follow the code, it is strongly advised.
  • Tell your employees what the disciplinary rules are. By law they have to be clearly written somewhere so that staff can check them at any time.
  • Genuinely try to resolve the situation. No matter how much your employee has irritated you, remember that there are often underlying reasons behind their behaviour. Don’t just pay lip service to the Acas Code of Practice; follow it to the letter and listen to what your employee is saying.
  • Take legal advice before making any dismissals. Before you dismiss an employee, press the pause button and consult a solicitor to ensure that, should a case by brought to the Employment Tribunal, you’ll be well-placed to defend yourself.
  • Be aware of when it’s definitely not ok to dismiss an employee. In most cases, the employee has to have been employed by the organisation for at least two years in order to bring an unfair dismissal claim. However, there are some dismissals which are automatically unfair no matter how long the employee has worked for you.
  • Be aware of the five potentially fair reasons in which employers can justify conducting a dismissal. Consider whether the dismissal is related to any of these reasons: Employee conduct; Employee capability or qualifications for the job; A redundancy; A statutory duty or restriction that prohibited the employment being continued,; Another substantial reasons of a kind that justifies the dismissal.

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