What impact will the publication of decisions have for businesses and employees?Some employers already screen job applicants by viewing their social media, so using the new online tool to check if applicants have brought claims against previous employers would be a simple extension of the vetting process. Some job searchers will fear that businesses will “blacklist” anyone who has taken a previous employer to a tribunal.
The fact that tribunal decisions are accessible online also has implications for many employers.
The fear of an employee’s tribunal claim finding its way into the press has always had an influence on an employer’s attitude to tribunal proceedings and some employers have preferred to settle claims rather than incur any adverse publicity or reputational harm arising from tribunal proceedings.
Although the majority of tribunal hearings have always been in public, the risk of adverse publicity previously has been relatively small. However, the risk for businesses is now much greater under the new system of online publication of decisions. As a result, some employers may be more inclined towards a quick settlement when threatened with tribunal proceedings, a fact that may not escape many employees who have a grievance.
If a settlement can be reached before a hearing, there will be little information that can go on to the website, and virtually none about the dispute itself. However, tribunal decisions made after a hearing contain a lot of factual detail about an employer’s decisions and procedures, and significantly can contain critical assessments of the conduct of the employer’s witnesses.
It is not just employers’ names that will go into the database; individual managers in the business who are also named as respondents to a discrimination claim will have their names published as part of the record. Even if they are not listed as parties to the claim, they are likely to be identified in the judgment and may be the subject of adverse criticism, particularly if there are allegations of bullying or harassment.
Another possible implication of the new system is that employees who bring a claim are likely to come to the hearing with copies of previous decisions made against the employer and will encourage the tribunal to draw adverse inferences about the employer from findings made against it in previous decisions, particularly those relating to discrimination claims.
The online database is likely to be here to stay. It remains to be seen what impact it will have on the tactics employed by those involved in disputes. However, it is fair to say that the increased accessibility of tribunal decisions is likely to have consequences for many businesses that should not be overlooked when an employment dispute arises.