How to beat claim culture

Is it time for your business to stop settling out of court and get tough?

A client operates a number of offices and warehouses nationwide.

Every day at 5pm, ‘no-win-no-fee’ agents mill outside the gates, touting for business, asking employees whether there is a grievance or potential legal claim they would like to bring against their employer? If ever there was a sign that compensation culture has arrived in the UK then this is perhaps one of the clearest, along with the steep rise in the number of firms which specialise in targeting employers on behalf of employees and ex-employees.

Nowadays, employment law and health and safety offer rich pickings for claimant-orientated solicitors and ‘claims consultants’. While in the past a minor workplace injustice might have resulted in a philosophical shrug, now the motto seems to be ‘sue whenever you can’.

So what strategy should you adopt for your business when it comes to dealing with employee claims? One option is for you to adopt a legalistic stance and dispute every issue. This has the benefit of sending the message that you are no walkover. Unfortunately, every employer has the occasional bad case and seeking to defend the indefensible does not go down well in a tribunal or courtroom. Defending every claim to the bitter end is also an expensive and timeconsuming business.

The alternative is to be conciliatory and settle contentious issues. The trouble is, your employees may see this as a soft stance. This is especially dangerous because employees have little to lose in bringing unmeritorious claims. Many lawyers make a decent living simply bringing ‘nuisance claims’ which employers will settle to avoid the hassle and inconvenience of a tribunal hearing.

The third – and best approach – is simple prevention. Doing things properly need not be as onerous as many employers fear.

The employee and more important, their lawyer, should be left in no doubt that the company’s systems, procedures and documentation are such that any attempt to bring a claim is likely to be a loser. Under the no-win-no-fee system, lawyers get nothing for losing cases. Granted, employers do have an increasing range of legal obligations towards their employees. However it is simply an issue of putting into place correct policies, procedures and systems.

In short, you need to ‘jump through hoops’ and ensure you have the documentary evidence to prove you have done so. You also need to take advice regarding the implementation of procedures. Appropriate management training in relation to dealing with both their employment and health and safety legal obligations will also reduce the number of claims dramatically.

It may seem like a hassle but the minor inconvenience of creating such a system is outweighed by the resulting peace of mind for your business.

John Stamper is solicitor and head of employment law at Judicium


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