Latest News

  • FRU welcomes Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of Tribunals
    Wed, 06/27/2018 - 15:45

    FRU was delighted to welcome a visit today by Sir Ernest Ryder, the Senior President of Tribunals. Sir Ernest had expressed an interest in hearing about FRU’s work representing clients in social security and employment tribunals and in providing clinical legal education to future lawyers.

    Sir Ernest spent the morning touring the FRU office, speaking to staff, volunteer representatives and a management committee member and trustee. He heard in detail how FRU works including the management of casework, the training of prospective lawyers and how we feed in our clients’ experiences of the tribunal system to policy makers. Sir Ernest was keen to hear what currently works well and where there are issues that the tribunal judiciary could address.

    During the visit Sir Ernest highlighted the value to the tribunal system of high quality advocacy. He spoke of being aware of FRU’s work through his own experience, that of judicial colleagues and contacts throughout the justice system. Sir Ernest underlined the value to young lawyers of clinical legal education through taking on real cases. He particularly encouraged FRU representatives to take on a range of cases to broaden their skill base.

    FRU Chief Executive David Abbott said “it was an honour and a pleasure to welcome Lord Justice Ryder to FRU. Sir Ernest was very interested in and supportive of FRU’s work. He expressed a genuine desire for feedback on how tribunals currently operate and how the judiciary can ensure that future developments take into account the work of pro bono organisations such as FRU. Sir Ernest’s recognition of the value of the work of our staff and volunteers was a great morale boost”.

  • FRU explains the benefits of pro bono to potential volunteers
    Wed, 06/20/2018 - 11:29

    We were pleased to be invited to the Middle Temple Hall for the Jobs and Opportunities Fair on 19 June. FRU Assistant Legal Officers Verity Bell and Josh Yetman spoke to all those who attended to explain the benefits of doing pro bono advocacy. FRU volunteers provide an essential service to our clients, who would not be represented in their employment or social security tribunal without us. Our volunteers receive high quality training and support which is proven to help them to develop their legal career.

  • FRU makes submission on ‘scandalously low’ level of employment tribunal awards compliance
    Wed, 06/13/2018 - 15:46

    FRU was invited to make a submission to the Dept. for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy consultation on recommendations arising from the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices.

    Based on our experience of representing clients in around 200 employment cases each year we made the following points:

    ·         There are particular barriers to enforcement of sick pay and for annual leave because problems generally occur while workers are still employed. Workers will often be concerned that if they make trouble for their employer they may be dismissed, receive less work or be punished in some other way. Workers are also discouraged by the disproportionate nature of the enforcement mechanisms, particularly where the sums involved are relatively small.

    ·         There are advantages to businesses from moving towards state enforcement of such contractual payments;

    ü  Workers are likely to be emotionally involved and, in many cases, under informed about the relevant law, enforcement officials are likely to have a better understanding of the relevant law, as well as having experience of dealing with employers in these circumstances. This is likely to make disputes, particularly straightforward ones, easier, quicker and cheaper to resolve.

    ü  The fact that state enforcement can apply to many workers at the same time is also a potential advantage for employers. It is much easier and more efficient to have a single point of contact that can solve an issue for multiple workers, than attempt to deal with each worker individually.

    ü  There will also be a potential advantage for those employers who comply with the law through the creation of a level playing field, in that they will be less likely to face unfair competition from employers who fail to comply with their duties.

    ·         Funding of employment law advice and tribunal representation would make a substantial difference. In their absence, the government should avoid creating barriers to claimants accessing the tribunal. This is important both for directly enforcing these rights. But it also gives some assurance that, if workers are mistreated because they try to enforce their rights, they have access to some recourse.

    ·         It should also be noted that many workers who experience these issues do not know about the existing state enforcement mechanisms. Greater efforts to publicise those mechanisms is likely to increase reporting.

    ·         There is a scandalously low rate of compliance with tribunal awards, which fundamentally undermines the efficacy of the employment tribunal process. The existing system for enforcement generally is too complex, opaque and relies on being driven by the claimant, rather than by robust case management in the same way as the rest of litigation. There is little point in having well-developed arrangements to adjudicate on employment rights if tribunal awards so frequently end up unpaid. It is particularly unfortunate that all of this occurs at the conclusion of the tribunal litigation. Many claimants simply drop out because they cannot face starting a new litigation process.

    ·         A modern enforcement system would resemble a modern litigation process. Once failure to pay had been registered, someone — either a judge or quasi-judicial official — would take responsibility for the enforcement process and case manage it. Parties would have the opportunity to provide information and make submissions, but decisions would made about how the process would progress. And, where one approach failed, others would be tried. If ultimately, an award could not be enforced the process would lead into insolvency proceedings against the employer if appropriate (as well as an application for payments to be made in favour of the worker by the Insolvency Service under the guaranteed payments scheme in appropriate cases).

    ·         It would be useful for the tribunals to have sufficient power to resolve the comparatively straightforward issues that may already be apparent at the point that the tribunal is dealing with the case. For example, it is common for smaller employers to have issues with paying an award immediately for reasons of cash flow. In practice, as is sensible, a court will allow them time to pay by instalments and this is also in the best interests of the claimant. It would be much simpler, cheaper and easier if this could be ordered by a tribunal at the remedies hearing, rather than requiring separate proceedings.

  • FRU responds to the government consultation on employment status
    Mon, 06/11/2018 - 11:16

    FRU has submitted a response to the government consultation on employment status that closed on June 1st. The consultation asked whether the options proposed in the Taylor Review of Modern Work Practices could achieve more certainty and clarity for businesses when determining employment status, particularly in relation to the realities of the modern labour market.

    FRU’s main points were as follows:

    The complexity of the legal position on employment status can assist employers who set out to deliberately miscategorise the status of their staff. But there are many other factors involved. In our experience the following factors are more important:

    •             Lack of scruple from employer. There are simply some rogue employers who have no interest in the legality of their actions.

    •             The worker’s knowledge of employment status. Many employees have no relevant knowledge or understanding of their status. In these circumstances, there is no need for the employer to rely on sophisticated obfuscation based on the sometimes nuanced legal position. They can put forward an obviously wrong assertion confident that it won’t be challenged.

    •             The power balance between worker and employer. Regardless of their knowledge, workers can only challenge their position if they have access to a genuine remedy or have the resources to push back against their employer. This is difficult for many vulnerable workers, particularly those in low paid, insecure jobs.

    FRU submitted therefore that codification of the test for employment status is not likely to produce any significantly greater certainty than the current case law approach. The difficulty in determining employment status is not that it is difficult to identify the main principles — these have been clear for some time. The difficulty is in applying the principles to actual employment situations. Where there is factual disagreement as to what was actually agreed this needs to be resolved. But, even more significantly, many employment relationships are genuinely complex or atypical, and different factors point in different directions.

    In FRU’s view many of the issues around employment status would be better addressed by ensuring that employees and workers have adequate access to advice and the opportunity to challenge suspect employment status decisions by their employer. We see many cases where employers insist that their staff are not employees or workers, even in straightforward cases where no sensible doubt exists.

    We argue that greater state enforcement, such as through HMRC enforcement of the National Minimum Wage, would produce pressure on employers to get status issues right.

    FRU Chief Executive David Abbott commented that “FRU represents hundreds of people in employment tribunals each year. We are very keen to ensure that our experience, and that of our clients, is fed back into the policy making process to prevent problems for other people. We wanted to contribute to this consultation on employment status because it forms the basis of many employment disputes and getting it right from the start can help often vulnerable workers”.

  • FRU gives evidence to the Women & Equalities Select Committee
    Wed, 06/06/2018 - 15:27

    Following on from our recent submission to the enquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace, FRU Principal Legal Officer Michael Reed was invited to give evidence to a committee hearing on 6th June.

    The session focused on the law relating to sexual harassment in the workplace and the effectiveness of routes to redress including tribunals and mediation.

    Michael gave evidence on:

    ·         the Equality Act and other provisions and protections relating to sexual harassment, including third-party harassment

    ·         barriers to bringing a claim at tribunal

    ·         the extent to which the tribunal system meets the needs of those bringing claims involving sexual harassment and ways in which it might be improved

    ·         the role of mediation in dealing with reports of sexual harassment in the workplace.

    You can watch Michael’s evidence here: