The relationship we build with our employers is very important for a happy and functional work environment. However, things aren’t always so straightforward as disputes can arise between employer and employee surprisingly easily.
While many differences of opinion can be ironed out through meetings and compromise, employees who feel that their employers are breaking employment law can take them to court in what is called an “employment tribunal”.
There are many reasons why an employee might take their employer to tribunal, such as failure to pay wages, disputes over working hours, or unfair dismissal. However, not all employees are successful in disputes, with businesses being protected from unfair claims by stringent employment law that balances the relationship between employee and employer, seeing that the rights of both parties are upheld.
However, with the recent upheaval and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses have had to make tough decisions and restructure their operations. This has brought a period of uncertainty and worry to many workers whose jobs are under threat or have disappeared altogether.
With this in mind, we were curious to find out just how many employment tribunals take place each year in the UK, and whether or not this figure is increasing. We also wanted to uncover which employment tribunal claims are the most common, and which have the most successful outcomes. So, read on to discover the UK employment tribunal landscape.
Changes to the number of employment tribunals since 2010/11
Here you can see the number of employment tribunal claims received each year, going back as far as 2010/11.
Change in the last ten years
In the last ten years, the total number of yearly employment tribunal claims being issued to the employment tribunal has dropped by 100,170, which equates to 45.93%. This is a huge decrease, and the causes for the overall are unclear, as it could suggest either that employees are happier and have less to complain about, or that the process for taking an employer to tribunal has become more obscure or difficult to follow. However, the dip in claims being issued between 2013/2021 and 2016/2017 is likely to be reflective of the introduction of employment tribunal fees to issue a claim during this period – claims seem to be on the rise again since the end of this regime.
Change since the pandemic
Looking at the most recent figures for 2020/21, and comparing them to the pre-pandemic figures of 2019/20, we can see how the number of employment tribunals has changed during the course of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Employment tribunals have increased by 13.42% since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, reflecting an actual rise of 1,353 tribunals. This is a stark contrast to the figures for 2019/20 which had dropped to 103,973, a decrease of 14.13% from the previous year. This suggests that the pandemic may have contributed to a rise in the number of employment tribunals.
Claims to employment tribunals
Current and former employees can take their employers to tribunal for all manner of reasons. Here, we’ll take a closer look at several the causes of employment disputes, finding out which are the most common both in the long and short term.
The most common tribunal claims of the last ten years
Here you can see the cumulative totals for the top ten most common reasons for employment tribunal claims being received by the employment tribunals over the last ten years.
Working Time Directive
10 Year Total: 456,210 tribunals
The most common complaint to an employment tribunal over the last 10 years is the Working Time Directive. This piece of legislation protects the rights of workers in terms of how much time they can legally be asked to work, as well as guaranteeing a set minimum number of paid holidays and rest hours between shifts, amongst other things. This is by far the most common complaint to an employment tribunal, with 456,210 claims being issued in the last decade.
10 Year Total: 293,418 tribunals
Unauthorised deductions are the second most common complaint to an employment tribunal, with 293,418 cases being received over the last ten years. An employee will bring an unauthorised deduction claim if they believe their employer has withheld all or part of their wages without consent or a legal reason for doing so.
10 Year Total: 246,684 tribunals
Unfair dismissal is the third most frequent compliant to an employment tribunal, with 246,684 cases over the last decade. Former employees will bring this claim if they believe that their contract has been terminated without fair reason (there being only five fair reasons stipulated in legislation), or where an employer does not follow the correct procedure in dismissing an employee.
The most common tribunal claims of 2020/21
Here, we specifically look at the most recent data for 2020/21 to see which tribunal claims are currently the most common.
2020/21 Total: 23,904
Unfair dismissals were the biggest complaint to an employment tribunal over the last year, with 23,904 cases being received. This highlights the turbulence in the employment market that has been brought about by the pandemic and frequent lockdowns, with job security for many people being a thing of the past. Many companies have been forced to downsize and cut costs where possible, which may have led to a higher number of employees being made redundant and subsequently alleging they have bene let go unfairly.
Working Time Directive
2020/21 Total: 20,867
The Working Time Directive is the second biggest complaint to an employment tribunal in the 2020/21 financial year, with 20,867 cases. This could suggest that employees are being asked to work longer hours or take less leave, due to complications from the coronavirus pandemic. With many employees making the switch to working from home, while others in front-line roles have been under enormous pressure, the boundaries of what constitutes an appropriate working day may have begun to become obscured.
2020/21 Total: 17,816
Unauthorised deductions are the third-highest complaint to an employment tribunal over the past year, with 17,816 individual cases. Employers have a duty to pay their staff the agreed wages in the agreed timeframe unless there are legal reasons for not doing so. With so much disruption to the business world over the last year and a half, it is not unsurprising that businesses may have found it more difficult to pay their staff than usual.
The tribunal claims that have increased since the pandemic
This section focuses on the tribunal complaints that have grown the most over the last year. This will give us a clearer picture of where the relationship between employer and employee is currently most fraught, and where the effects of the pandemic may have hit workers the hardest.
Part-Time Workers Regulations
Increase Since Pandemic: 767.08%
The employment tribunal complaint that has increased the most since the beginning of the pandemic is Part-Time Workers Regulations. These regulations are designed to protect part-time workers, ensuring that they are treated equally to their full-time counterparts, and are not discriminated against because of their part-time status.
Increase Since Pandemic: 530.07%
The tribunal complaint that has risen the second most over the pandemic is Age Discrimination, which rose by 530.07%. Employment law should protect people from being treated differently at work due to their age, allowing them to work on an equal footing with younger or older colleagues.
Increase Since Pandemic: 108.22%
Other miscellaneous reasons take third place as a category, which in itself suggests that the pandemic has put such a strain on businesses that they are finding themselves at odds with their employees in new and different ways.
Employment tribunal outcomes
The most important part of an employment tribunal is the outcome, where either the employee or employer is deemed to be in the right. Here we’ll look at two different ways of measuring the success of an employment tribunal, and find out which reasons for tribunals are most likely to succeed.
This overview of employment tribunals shows us the figures for 2020/21, 2019/20, and 2010/11. Here we can see that over the last ten years 33.55% fewer cases are settled out of tribunal without going to a hearing, suggesting that employers are more confident of their own good practice and are confident that they can defend themselves in tribunal.
However, this data also shows us that the success rate of hearings has risen over the last decade, which implies that the rights of employees are being strongly protected by the tribunal system. Yet despite this, the combined successful outcomes of hearing successes and settlements have fallen by 20.75% over the same time period, revealing that while employees might be marginally more successful in tribunal, fewer cases are reaching that stage of the process, and the reduction of settlements has tipped the balance in employers’ favour.
The view since the pandemic is markedly different, with an increase in out of court settlements of 9.75% against pre-pandemic levels. 9.58% fewer cases are reaching hearings than the previous year, which could be explained by external pressures from the coronavirus outbreak. While out of court settlements have risen, the success rate of hearings has fallen, with 4.11% fewer successful hearings. This has resulted in a small rise in overall successful outcomes of 2.85%.
Hearing success rates by tribunal cause
Here we can see which claims at employment tribunals are the most likely to be successful at their hearings based on the last year’s data.
Redundancy - failure to inform.
Hearing Success Rate: 93.79%
With so many businesses under added pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, many employees have been made redundant. However, this data shows that of those redundancy situations examined by the tribunal, many of these redundancies were not carried out correctly, suggesting that employers were either largely unaware of the correct procedure or simply failed to act in a fair manner to their employees.
Transfer of an undertaking - failure to inform and consent.
Hearing Success Rate: 89.26%
This tribunal complaint relates to either a business transfer or a service provision change. In either case, the terms and conditions of an employee’s contract should remain the same. Claims to a tribunal can happen when an employee feels that their job has changed significantly, and no longer reflects the agreements made in their contract.
Written pay statement
Hearing Success Rate: 79.17%
Written pay statements refer to the correct distribution of itemised payslips to employees. Failure to provide these means employees cannot see how their pay has been calculated and leads them to question whether they have been correctly paid. The high success rate of these claims at tribunal shows it to be a fairly cut and dry issue, and that employers should be conscientious in making sure their staff receive correct and detailed payment information on or before the day they are paid.
Successful outcomes by tribunal cause
This data shows which tribunal claims are the most successful, either in hearing successes or in out of court settlements.
Written statements of terms and conditions.
Combined successful outcomes: 47.13%
A written statement of terms and conditions is a document that all employees should receive outlining some of the basic parameters of the job, such as working hours, pay and holiday entitlement. This document must be provided on before the employee’s first day of work and is commonly included within an employee’s Contract of Employment, which is a much broader document. With 47.13% of claims due to complaints surrounding written statements, these are the tribunals which see the most successful results for the employee.
Suffer a detriment/unfair dismissal - pregnancy.
Combined successful outcomes: 43.73%
The second most successful complaint to tribunals is unfair treatment or dismissal due to pregnancy. Pregnant women are protected by law to ensure that they are treated no differently due to their condition, which would be an unethical intervention into an employee’s life. Pregnant women who feel that they are the subject of discrimination should be encouraged by the 43.73% chance of a +successful outcome from a tribunal
Combined successful outcomes: 41.59%
Disability discrimination is the third most successful complaint to an employment tribunal, with 41.59% having successful outcomes. While there are many protections for disabled people to try and ensure a fair and equal workplace, discrimination does still happen. If this applies to you, you should be encouraged by the high rate of success that tribunals have when tackling disability-related claims.
We wanted to find out how many employment tribunals occur in the UK, and why. We looked at UK Government data detailing all employment tribunals for the last ten years, looking for trends over the past ten years as well as since the coronavirus pandemic.
The data allowed us to compare success rates in hearings and in achieving a settlement, as well as enabling us to track changes in the makeup of employment tribunals over time. This meant we could see which employment tribunal claims are becoming more or less common, and which claims have the highest success rates to date for employees bringing such claims.