Are ET claims going up? Yes but no but yes but no but … whatever!

On Monday afternoon, I was happily wandering through a series of dimly-lit rooms, admiring some rather fine naked bodies in all manner of unlikely poses, when a series of tweets by #ukemplaw tweeps alerted me first to one, then to another, and then to a third news report, each announcing new hope for Britain’s work-starved employment lawyers.

“Employment tribunal claims up 75 per cent in 12 months”, screamed The HR Director, which claims to be “the most respected independent resource for HR directors and senior HR practitioners in print, in person and online”.

“Employment tribunal caseload rebounds after slump”, bellowed the Law Society Gazette, which claims to be the “publication of record to solicitors in England and Wales since 1903”.

And – a little more wonkishly – the Solicitors Journal, which claims to have been “a reliable and trusted source of information for thousands of legal professionals” since 1856, helpfully explained that “Employment tribunal cases are on the up as claimants adjust to new fee system.” [NB – article since deleted, it seems]

Hallelujah! Crack open the champagne! Come back Chris Grayling, all is forgiven. Let the gravy train roll!

And then – cynic that I am – the doubts began to set in. Surely the latest set of ET statistics isn’t out until next week, I mused, while sneaking a closer peek at a chiseled pair of buttocks. So, pausing only to check out some extremely pornographic vases, I read beyond the dramatic headline of each news report.

The number of single claims in ET cases has jumped by 16 percent in just six months, rising from 3,790 in Q1 [2014/15] to 4,390 in Q3 2014/15, as the slump in cases reverses, says Hugh James Solicitors, the top 100 law firm. Hugh James Solicitors says that the number of employment tribunal cases fell from 10,900 in Q2 2013/14, after the introduction of tribunal fees. However, the number of claims is now re-bounding as disgruntled former employees adjust to the new fees and weigh the financial risks to them of pursuing a claim against the potential pay-out. Hugh James Solicitors notes that when multiple claims are included in the analysis, the increase in the number of tribunal cases is even more striking – rising by 75 percent from 10,840 to 18,940 in a year. Emma Burns, Partner, Head of Employment and HR Services Group at Hugh James Solicitors, explains: “The cost for launching a claim is between £160 to £250; when they were first introduced it was a shock, but now people are more acclimatised to these fees.” (The HR Director)

Employment tribunal cases have rebounded in spite of the introduction of fees and it is still too easy [!!!!] to bring a spurious claim, a leading law firm has said. Claims have doubled [sic], with a similar trend in Scotland, since the requirement was introduced a year ago to use the Acas mediation service before launching a case, according to Hugh James Solicitors. Tribunal cases at first slumped by almost two-thirds in response to the [fees]. But claims have rebounded “as disgruntled former employees adjust to the new fees and weigh the financial risks to them of pursuing a claim against the potential pay-out,”, the firm says. (This was The Herald in Scotland – from where things always look a lot worse, apparently.)

The number of claims in employment tribunals is bouncing back following the slump after the introduction of fees, figures obtained [sic] by a law firm reveal today. Top-100 firm Hugh James said that the number of single claims in tribunal cases has jumped by 16% in six months, rising from 3,790 in the first quarter [2014/15] to 4,390 in the third quarter. Hugh James said the number of claims is now rebounding as disgruntled former employees adjust to the new fees and weigh the financial risks to them of pursuing a claim against the potential pay-out. Emma Burns, partner, said: ‘The cost for launching a claim is between £160 to £250; when they were first introduced it was a shock, but now people are more acclimatised to these fees.’ (Law Society Gazette)

The recent and highly-publicised slump in ET cases has reversed, say lawyers, as reports emerge single claims have risen by 16 per cent over the last six months. Hugh James Solicitors observed [sic] that employment tribunal cases fell from 10,900 in Q2 2013/14, after the introduction of tribunal fees. However, the number of claims has begun to rebound as disgruntled former employees adjust to the new fees and weigh the financial risks of pursuing a claim against the potential pay-out. Emma Burns, partner and head of employment at Hugh James Solicitors, explained: ‘The cost for launching a claim is between £160 to £250; when they were first introduced it was a shock, but now people are more acclimatised to these fees.’ (Solicitors Journal)

The number of employment tribunal cases is rebounding, after falling when tribunal fees were introduced, according to research [sic] released today by Hugh James Solicitors. “The cost for launching a claim is between £160 to £250; when they were first introduced it was a shock, but now people are more acclimatised to these fees,” said Hugh James Solicitors partner Emma Burns. (This was CityAM, which clearly thinks it knows a good bit of legal research when it sees it.)

Yes – and I’m truly sorry to have to break this to you, employment lawyers – we’ve been here before. It’s the old ‘Get Our Law Firm’s Name in The Papers in The Hope of Drumming-up Some Much-needed Business by Issuing a Press Release With an Eye-catching But Rubbish Story About ET Claim Numbers’ trick. Last year, it worked rather well for GQ Employment Law, who were rewarded by the legal editor of the Times, Frances Gibb, with a very silly story about how discrimination claims were bucking the steeply downward trend under fees. And in 2013 it worked extremely well for law firm EMW, for whom publicists Mattison PR [sic] secured splashes in both the Times and Telegraph, later picked up by HR Magazine and the CIPD. (Incidentally, Nick Mattison of Mattison PR wasn’t very pleased when I wrote about EMW – he rang one of my then senior managers to complain about me).

And here – kindly provided to me (via email) by Catherine Sirikanda of Mattison PR [sic] – is the press release issued by Hugh James Solicitors on Monday (I’ve had to crop the bottom of the left hand page but – believe me – you’re really not missing anything):

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 13.59.19

So, just how stale and silly is the story sold to The HR Director, CityAM, the Law Society Gazette, The Herald in Scotland, and Solicitors Journal by Hugh James Solicitors (or Mattison PR)? Have mistreated and exploited workers become “more acclimatised” to ET fees?

Well, the official statistics that The Law Society Gazette reports as being “obtained” by Hugh James Solicitors were, of course, published by the Ministry of Justice on 12 March. And you really don’t have to have spent nearly three months studying those statistics to ‘observe’ that the number of single claims/cases did indeed increase by 16% from 3,792 in Q1 of 2014/15 (erroneously referred to as Q1 of 2013/14 in the Hugh James press release – an error dutifully copied out by both The HR Director and Law Society Gazette), to 4,386 in Q3 (October to December 2014). Or to ‘observe’ that the number of multiple claims increased from 4,478 to 18,943.

But can we conclude from this that would-be ET claimants have become “more acclimatised” to ET fees? Indeed, can we conclude anything at all from these figures?

Well, the short answer to both questions is: no. And the slightly longer answer is: only if you are an idiot (or a journalist at The HR Director, the Law Society Gazette, CityAM, The Herald in Scotland, or Solicitors Journal with a law firm’s press release to copy out before your deadline).

Because you only have to spend less than three minutes looking at Table 1.2 of the Ministry’s statistics – freely available even to Law Society Gazette and The Herald journalists since 12 March, remember – to see one obvious explanation for at least a large part of this counter-intuitive rise in the number of ET claims, from Q1 to Q3 of 2014/15.

We can see, for example, that equal pay claims actually fell, from 1,995 to 1,759, as did redundancy claims, from 900 to 675. Meanwhile breach of contract claims rose by a less than whopping 4.3%, from 1,928 to just 2,012. But Working Directive claims rose by 488%, from 2,171 to 10,604, and Unauthorised Deductions claims rose by 420%, from 2,545 to 10,701. And, frankly, you don’t have to be a former Pulitzer Prize winner to realise what was going on here. In short, a high-profile (and certainly well-reported) legal ruling on holiday pay in early November led to a (relatively small) tsunami of holiday pay claims in the final weeks of 2014, as workers (and their unions and lawyers) rushed to take advantage of the ruling. Do a few basic sums to take those extra holiday pay-related claims out of the picture, and the total number of jurisdictional claims increased from about 27,100, to about 38,800.

Yes, that is still a rise of some 43%, from Q1 to Q3. But you also don’t have to be a legal genius to know that the figures for Q1 were artificially (and quite considerably) depressed by the implementation, at the start of that quarter, of Acas early conciliation, which introduced a one-month delay in the registration of new ET claims (known to employment lawyers everywhere – other than those at Hugh James Solicitors, it would seem – as the ‘Acas pause’). This ‘Acas pause’ is plainly evident in the columns for May and June 2014 in the following chart, which – unless you are Emma Burns or Catherine Sirikanda – you have probably seen at least one version of before.

ET monthly 02 06 15

So an increase in the quarters immediately following Q1 of 2014/15 was inevitable, and by itself tells us nothing whatsoever about the relative inclination of mistreated workers to issue an ET claim. It is (much) more meaningful to compare Q3 of 2014/15 to Q4 of 2013/14 (i.e. the three months immediately prior to the introduction of Acas early conciliation). And when we do that, we can see that the figure for single claims hailed as a 16% increase by Hugh James Solicitors – 4,386 – was still well below the 5,619 just nine months earlier, and the 4,969 in the quarter before that. I don’t see much ‘acclimatisation to fees’ in those figures, or indeed in the above chart.

So, well done Emma Burns of Hugh James Solicitors, you got your firm’s name in the papers. But it’s a moot point whether you have acted in a way that is consistent with ensuring public trust in the legal profession. And you certainly haven’t enhanced your personal entry for Employment Law Genius of the Year.

[BTW, you can see those impressive naked bodies and pornographic vases at the British Museum, until 5 July]

Postscript (3 June): As Paul Statham has today noted on Twitter, the Law Society Gazette article may be rubbish, but the BTL comments are worth reading. So, in case the Gazette decides to follow Solicitors Journal in deleting its article, here are the best of those comments:

This has got to be one of the worst articles I’ve seen on the [Law Society Gazette] website. (anonymous)

Sounds like a desperate PR plug for Emma Burns. And considering that Hugh James are a respondent outfit, how would she know what claimants are thinking? She has come across as a bit of a wally. (Marshall Hall)

Hugh James said the number of claims is now rebounding as disgruntled former employees adjust to the new fees … Emma Burns, partner, said: ‘… when they were first introduced it was a shock, but now people are more acclimatised to these fees.’ These statements make no sense. (anonymous)

That the Gazette should publish unchallenged the PR guff of Hugh James is depressing but not surprising. Slack lazy journalism, and Hugh James should be ashamed but no doubt will not be. (Paul Jeffcoate)

Including Commission in Holiday Pay

The Advocate General’s opinion given in Lock v British Gas Trading Ltd & ors is that commission payments should be included in a worker’s holiday pay. If this is followed by the Court then frankly it is going to cause chaos.

The opinion relies heavily on the Court’s decision in Williams & (many, many) others  v British Airways to the effect that pay in respect of annual leave must correspond to the ‘normal remuneration’ received by the worker in so far as that remuneration is ‘intrinsically linked’ to the performance of the worker’s tasks and has a degree of permanence.

In Lock’s case, the employee received commission on sales made which was paid in arrears once a sale had been completed. This meant that Mr Lock did get paid commission when he was on holiday, but that pay was in respect of work he had done before his annual leave began. His complaint was that since he was not able to earn commission while he was on holiday then his future pay would be lower than if he had not been on leave.

The Advocate General accepted that commission was intrinsically linked to the work Mr Lock did and that although it varied from month to month it was an inherent part of his overall remuneration and had the necessary degree of permanence. A failure to take commission into account was capable of deterring Mr Lock from taking his annual leave – all the more so since it made up about 60% of his total remuneration. On that basis the AG concluded that commission did have to be included in calculating Mr Lock’s holiday pay, with the suggestion that he should receive the average amount of commission paid over a representative reference period.

Has Lock really lost anything?

It seems to me that the key flaw in this is that it assumes that if Mr Lock worked for 52 weeks in the year rather than 48 he would make an extra four weeks’ worth of sales. But simply as a matter of common sense that will not be true. There will be quiet periods when the clients themselves are on holiday and so unlikely to close a deal and Mr Lock will also organise his time around the fact that he will be taking holiday at various points over the year. There may well be cases where commission is earned at a constant rate per hour of work done – telesales might work like that – but sales jobs based on closing more complicated deals and building relationships just don’t work that way.

British Gas argued that the commission paid to Mr Lock was based on an annual sales target which took holiday into account. The AG said (para 43 &44) that there was no clear evidence for that and that in any event that would breach the rule against rolled-up holiday in Robinson Steele. I think that misses the point. This isn’t about rolled-up holiday, but about how many sales you would expect a good sales person to make over the course of a year and working out a commission scheme accordingly.


If this AG opinion is followed then things are going to get pretty complicated. I can think of all sorts of ways in which an employee might try to ‘game’ the system to make sure that no commission would normally be paid during a holiday period, so as to maximise the windfall when the holiday pay is calculated and has to include a sum representing commission. Also, I don’t quite see how just paying an average commission payment during the holiday period itself will work. Mr Lock would normally be paid during his leave for the commission he had earned before taking his holiday. It is his subsequent wages which suffer – when he is paid after his holiday and has lost the opportunity to be paid commission in respect of work he would otherwise have completed. When would that actually need to be paid?

I would love to hear suggestions about how commission schemes could be made to comply with the AG opinion. Whatever the eventual outcome of this case, however, we clearly need to revisit the whole definition of a week’s pay for the purposes of the Working Time Regulations. The definition we have in the Employment Rights Act just isn’t up to the job anymore. I’m sure BIS would be grateful for any suggestions in the comments about how we can define a week’s pay in a way that the CJEU will accept, and which normal mortals can actually understand.