BBC spends £600,000 on Employment Tribunal Claims

According to The Times today:

“The BBC paid out almost £600,000 dealing with employment tribunal claims last year.
A total of £379,125 went in payments to aggrieved staff to settle cases and a further £203,627 was spent in external lawyers’ fees in 2009-10, figures released by the BBC in response to a Freedom of Information request show.”

This was for 33 employees.

So on average £11,500 compensation and £6,100 for legal fees.

Helen Giles in the opinion section suggests that Employment Tribunals are nothing but legal extortion which effectively give employees an easy way to claim some cash. She bemoans certain unnamed firms which “saber rattle” with the knowledge that their client’s claims are spurious.

Firstly, if she knows of such firms they should be reported to the SRA.

In my experience, acting mostly for employers, I have to say that most claims are not spurious but come about through poor management or bad or no Legal advice before dismissal, redundancy etc.

More should be spent on training line managers and this will reduce fees to lawyers (which seem quite reasonable actually!).

Of course, there will be some claims which will be spurious, particularly I find the “bullying” type claims, but then these can be easily defended and if they are spurious then defended successfully with costs arguments at the end.

The BBC could, as could most companies, benefit hugely from compulsory employment mediation. Not just a call from acas, but immediately after the ET3 is filed, both parties should attend a Tribunal backed mediation scheme. This would also help root out spurious claims at the earliest stage.

I’m training to be an accredited mediator soon and I really think mediation is the way forward.

Please leave your comments below.

Steven

10 thoughts on “BBC spends £600,000 on Employment Tribunal Claims

  1. The thing that strikes me about the BBC figure is how low it is. How many employees does the BBC have? On balance having to shell out just over 10 grand to a couple of dozen employees across it’s entire workforce seems like a pretty good deal. I wonder how much the Daily Telegraph pays out each year?

    I quite agree that the ‘spurious claim’ argument is overblown. If a claim has simply no chance of success then don’t settle and don’t spend a fortune on lawyers. Why pay out good money to defend a claim that won’t be won anyway? The fact is that most claims do have something of substance behind them that stems from poor handling of the situation by the employer. In my experience it’s rarely a result of employment law being complicated but rather a failure of common sense or basic management skills on the part of the employer.

    My worry is that this playing up of the burden of employment law and the idea of tribunals as some sort of gravy train will be used by the Government to erode employment rights or to restrict access to employment tribunals. I think that would be a big mistake.

    1. Darren, I agree, 33 employees out of what must be thousands isn’t that bad of a percentage. I advised a firm that had that kind of numbers with staff of around 500!! (very bad management, never listened to me).

      I can see your concern. I hope instead it leads to a rejig of Tribunal claims and as I say a move towards mediation. The government want to say costs and this would achieve it in a small way. Hopefully the Tories don’t take away the employment rights and listen to the constant diatribe from the likes of bannatyne!

  2. From memory the article did not take any account of time spent by in-house lawyers. I’m not aware of the BBC’s practice, but maybe the prep work on cases is all done in-house and the £200k figure is counsel’s fees, or costs only for heavy work that is outsourced.

    At that sort of level, the figures are always going to be skewed by one-off claims. For instance, the Countryfile discrimination claim is likely to be highly costly to defend and if that is included in these figures it could completely unbalance them.

    As I understand it the 33 claims figure is the figure for new claims that year, whereas the £600k figure is the figure for all claims in process – presumably also including claims lodged in previous years.

    Its always interesting to see these kind of figures for organisations, but I’m not sure we can extrapolate too far from one set of statistics for one year for one organisation.

  3. I agree with Darren that £600k is low for such a large employer and with Laurie that a few big claims could account for most of this. I share your concern as to where this is heading but I don’t agree that compulsory mediation is the answer. In cases where one or both parties is not willing to settle, compulsory mediation would be a monumental waste of time, and further expense all round (including the public purse). It was heavily pushed by Michael Gibbons in his review of employment tribunals (and funnily enough he too had a personal interest in mediation) but that went nowhere because it was opposed on all sides, including employers.

    1. Thanks Anya

      If a party isn’t willing to settle then question why. I take your point that there will always be cretinous lawyers who need the work, but then the job of the mediator will be to tell the claimant the chance of success.

      In any case, its not as much a waste of time as 6 months tribunal work, and I firmly believe it will help to filter out the so called spurious claims discussed.

      However, in order for mediation to begin to be successful lawyers need to take a different view, ET judges must want to like it and the public (both emp/or and ee) need to be educated.

      I guess the main problem with ET’s are lack of case management and lack of risk for employees. However, without them many n employees would have the rug pulled from underneath them

  4. I’ve read this blog and subsequent comments with interest. Firstly, and to have a personal rant, I don’t pay my TV licence fee to fund compensation to aggrieved employees! Rant over.

    I carried out extensive research for a Management Report concerning the barriers to the successful utilisation of employment mediation in 2010. Those interviewed included a public sector employer, Trade Union official and aggrieved employee (as well as running an anonymously completed survey). The findings were largely in support of mediation, although it was identified that this would not be suitable in all cases.

    From personal experience, I was very disappointed to receive an email from the President of the Employment Tribunals advising that it would be inappropriate for the ET service to refer cases to independent mediators. My bid had been to help reduce the waiting time, reduce costs for all involved and resolve issues before too much resentment was felt. This would impact positively on productivity and workplace and personal relationships. I felt that I’d been chastised for taking the initiative to offer assistance on this occasion.

    Employment mediation DOES need to be a voluntary process, since the idea is for the parties to reach a mutually agreeable solution and the chance of success diminishes where one party is not entering in to the spirit whole heartedly. There appears to be a lack of knowledge of the benefits of mediation generally and we need to educate business owners, employees, HR practitioners and union officials about how it can truly help.

    I’m not an employment lawyer so can’t comment on the legalities although I do agree that we need to better educate our Managers in all things HR related.

    Perhaps a biased view from me, but I have to say I’ve had a 100% success rate in the cases mediated to date – and long may that continue!

    Thanks for a thought provoking debate, everyone!

  5. I agree that voluntary mediation can be helpful. But in many employment tribunal cases the employee has been sacked and the employer is glad that they are gone. The only issue to be resolved is how much money should be paid to make the employee go away. One of the key factors influencing that is whether the employee has a good case and is likely to win and what the likely award for the tribunal will be.

    Obviously the parties need to negotiate, but is mediation really a better option than straightforward negotiation? I’m not a mediator so would be interested in any views as to what mediation as opposed to conciliation offers the parties and how it works out cheaper than the Acas conciliation service – whichd certainly has a pretty good success rate.

    1. Darren, its true that often its about cash and many times your advice to a client is “how much is it worth for her to go away” taking into account lawyers fees and management time.

      But thats not the same for spurious claims and I know not of any employers that would pay out if the claim was spurious.

      If there is a hint of cash, there must be a hint of doubt in the employers mind that they didn’t do something right.

      Regarding negotiation, I would absolutely love it if lawyers were able to pick up the phone and speak about figures. I’ve done this loads if times and all to often the response is don’t know, no worked it out, up to the tribunal, blah blah blah…

      Ive never found Acas to be that useful unless the parties are already taking cash. Vie only come accross a couple if acas reps that take a proactive role and are creative in getting the parties to settle.

      Ive not been involved in any employment mediation, so someone else will need to answer that, but I still think it’s a good thing to get the parties to do it as part of CMDs.

      Steven

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