Update on spurious tribunal claims

An article reported in our eNewsletter last year was on the subject of Spurious Tribunal Claims, and it was recognised how frustrating these claims are for employers when they have to sometimes swallow their principles and settle a tribunal claim even though they did nothing wrong.

Employees are often known to submit a tribunal claim in the hope that they will receive a pay-out before the claim goes to Tribunal. These are often referred to as a nuisance payment as it is more commercially astute for the employer to pay a few hundred pounds to make the claim go away as opposed to incurring the legal costs involved with defending a claim.  Legal costs alone can run into the thousands, and adding on top of the time taken by management pulling evidence together and of course the actual cost of attending the tribunal itself which may involve several employees of the business being called as witnesses.

However there are occasions when an employer simply feels the need to stand their ground and sound a strong message out loud and clear to their staff that this type of claim will be defended.  It can also bring about the former employee withdrawing the case or as we come across fairly frequently at Alcumus, will settle for the provision of a reference.

The reason why we have decided to report upon this article again is due to the very recent high profile case which many of you may have recently read about which shows that sometimes it is worth standing ground and not being bullied or manipulated into making a commercial settlement.  The case involved no other than Lord Alan Sugar having to defend a constructive unfair dismissal claim from Miss Stella English who was recruited into Lord Sugar’s employment through the television series The Apprentice.

The Apprentice has brought about the phrase “You’re fired”, the saying made infamous by Lord Sugar when a candidate was not good enough to be appointed into the role of apprentice.  Some of the other comments he makes are also close to the bone, but make amusing TV viewing.  Miss English was the successful candidate in the 6th series of this programme, Lord Sugars opening remarks in the first programme of the series was  “I’ve read all your CV’s and on paper you all look good, but so does fish and chips”.  However Lord Sugar is not breaching any legislation by making these remarks especially taking into consideration these are candidates and not employees, and also the candidates would have difficulty in arguing any form of discrimination as he treats them all in the same vein!

However Miss English did gain employment rights after she was appointed and worked for Lord Sugar for over 12 months, and thus raised an Employment Tribunal Claim.  It was the unanimous decision of the tribunal that she was unsuccessful and indeed the Tribunal Judge stated “this was a claim that should never have been brought”.  Lord Sugar felt that he was being blackmailed by Miss English’s’ actions of bringing the claim as it was an attempt to extract money from him assuming that he would not attend the tribunal and testify but would prefer to settle out of court to avoid any publicity.

Lord Sugar stated “I have principles and I am not going to be forced to compromise them, no matter how much time and money they might cost me”  of course Lord Sugar may have much more financial security to take this stand point than many other employers who have to compromise their principles, but he continued to state that he hoped other companies may learn from his experience and fight off the derisory claims and he confirmed that has raised this subject in the House of Lords and will continue to campaign to put an end to this type of spurious claim culture.   Let’s hope that the papers he submits to the House of Lords don’t end up as fish and chips wrapping paper!