Ministry of Justice launches new website on Employment Tribunal decisions
With reservations from both employers and employees, will the Government’s decision to publish employment tribunal decisions pose real risks?
When meeting with any employee or employer involving tribunal proceedings, it is usually not long before the issue of reputational damage to one or other parties crops up. Employers will be worried that their name might be besmirched by having a case go to a final hearing at an Employment Tribunal and many employees are quick to say that their employer will do anything to avoid that situation. With ubiquitous social media and 24hr rolling news, and a much wider appreciation of the risk of misuse of data, reputation and reputation management is everything.
With Employment Tribunal litigation, it has always been the case that the final hearing is open to the public unless a Reporting Restriction Order is made or evidence is heard in private. Copies of Judgments have always been publicly available by applying in writing to Bury St Edmunds Employment Tribunal for the decisions made in England & Wales or to Glasgow Employment Tribunal for Scottish decisions.
New Employment Tribunal Decisions Database
However, the Government has started to make these judgments much more readily available and last month, The Ministry of Justice launched its website of Employment Tribunal decisions – see https://www.gov.uk/employment-tribunal-decisions .
At the moment, it covers new or recent judgments and stretches back to decisions made in 2015. Whether earlier decisions will be added to the database is not yet known. Because it is an online database, it is possible to search against particular names (of parties), judges or lawyers. In other words, it is now a lot easier for either a disgruntled employee to search for cases his/her employer or for employers to search against their employees names to see who has been involved in tribunal litigation.
This poses particular risks for employers who might be tempted to search the database when making recruitment decisions. The risk they run is that if an employee or a potential employee is rejected for a job because they had been involved in a discrimination case, a claim for Victimisation under the Equality Act could arise. Whether a disappointed job applicant could ever prove that their rejection was based on a search of the Judgments database is harder to say.
Employees will probably also worry about their name appearing on the database for just this reason as well. It may encourage them to settle before the case gets too far, or even before issuing proceedings. With claimants having to negotiate ACAS Early Conciliation before paying their issue fee to the Tribunal to commence proceedings, the risk of a future employer reading about their claim may be one further step too far in seeking justice.
For once both employers and employees may have share common cause in having reservations with this new initiative. I suspect, initially anyway, that the existence of the database will only be of interest to employment lawyers and a very small minority of litigants (whether Employers or Employees). It is likely that the existence of the database will pass most people by.