Chris Moses: Bad employment relations could prove damaging for Lincolnshire food producers

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For many Lincolnshire food producers who supply the major supermarkets, bad publicity resulting from problems with employees and agency staff can have potentially serious knock on effects for their businesses.

High profile supermarkets are extremely sensitive to allegations of worker exploitation in their supply chain, and work hard to ensure that their suppliers do not damage their reputations.

Bad publicity resulting from claims of discrimination, harassment, excessive working hours or pay issues within the supply chain are never welcome, regardless of whether or not they are successfully defended.

Consequently many suppliers are conscious of the potentially damaging effects to their reputations which could result from the government’s plans to publish online the result of all Employment Tribunal cases, following the introduction of a new data base from the HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

Although the launch of this service has been widely welcomed by many employers as a means of improving transparency, there will undoubtedly be concerns for those who are sensitive to bad publicity, especially from vexatious trouble making employees.

The risk of bad publicity and its financial ramifications for businesses, may force many to try and settle out of court, rather than run the risk of trying to defend themselves.

However the chance to air their grievances in public may act as an incentive for any employee who wants their ‘day in court’, and who see it as an opportunity to dish the dirt on their old boss.

As a result, claimants who may previously have been persuaded to settle their claim out of court, may now have less incentive to do so, resulting in more protracted and expensive legal costs for the employer.

The threat of adverse publicity against an employer could give claimants additional leverage to increase the amount of compensation they would be prepared to accept in an out of court settlement.

However, the existence of this public data base could also increase the risk of covert black listing of claimants.

Tribunal cases have always been conducted in public, however unless someone has attended the hearing, details of a case have previously only been available by specific request to HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

In 2017 the process of checking if someone has taken their previous employer to a tribunal becomes a lot easier.

One possible result of the new data base is an increase in the use of settlement agreements at a much earlier stage in the dispute resolution process, to resolve claims before they reach an Employment Tribunal, with the inclusion of confidentiality clauses to prevent the risk of adverse publicity to either party.