Manager Guide: Afraid of Being Sued?

Are you imagining an astronomical sum in damages pending? Or feel like lawyers are conspiring against you and sabotaging your success? Are you worried about health and safety in your workplace?

These 5 secrets tell you what’s really going on in the UK compensation courts, and show that business is largely being misled in thinking you have to wrap employees in cotton wool or forced into large out-of-court settlements. These facts will put you back on track and show that compensation payouts are largely exaggerated and help you sleep at night – right now.

1. Compensation

For many managers, the thought of being sued for compensation is scary, although, if you look at the facts, the compensation culture in the UK is a myth.  Recent reports show injury claims are down 60 per cent in the last decade and those workers receiving awards for work-related injuries or diseases is down from 219,183 in 2000/01 to 87,655 in 2011/12.[1]

The implications for common law cancer claims are just as devastating.

2017/18 figures for lung disease graph
2017/18 figures for lung disease

The HSE figures tell us there are thousands of new work-related cancer cases each year and yet their figures show that even the families of those dying from occupational diseases rarely get a payout. For most occupational cancers, the odds of getting any compensation are less than one in 50.

2. Workers Will Claim for Everything

Managers believe that people are going to claim for absolutely anything regardless of whether such a claim might be morally or ethically acceptable.

Which? Consumer Group   disagrees saying:

 “Despite claims that the UK has a ‘compensation culture’ the total costs of compensation cases in Britain has stayed the same since 1989”

The reason for the lack of claims, Which says, is a result of the legal profession selecting cases that are likely to win, so ridiculous claims are usually thrown out before reaching court. After all, with the “no win, no fee” label, they would not want to waste their time unless there was a reasonable chance of winning.

However, this does not stop the odd absurd case reaching the courts or being publicised by the national press, which loves to spread the rumour and frighten businesses.

3. Employment Tribunals

The Guardian[2] (2014) writes that fewer people are taking their employers to a tribunal after fees went up to £1,200 for tribunal hearings.

A recent TUC report shows that there has been a 79% fall in overall claims taken to employment tribunals, with women and low-paid workers the worst affected.

ET Statistics for those Being Sued

Analysis of government figures shows:

  • An 80% fall in women pursuing sex discrimination claims since the introduction of fees, with just 1,222 women taking out claims between January and March 2014 compared with 6,017 over the same period in 2013.
  • The number of women taking pregnancy-discrimination claims fell by 26%.
  • Race discrimination cases have dropped by 60% over that period
  • Disability claims have fallen by 46%.
  • There has been a 70% drop in workers pursuing claims for non-payment of the national minimum wage
  • An 85% drop in claims for unpaid wages and holiday pay.

To read the full report click here

4.  Prosecutions

Prosecutions[3], which generally gives a claimant ammunition for making a later claim, over the last five years, have remained fairly constant too. See Table 1 which shows around 600 per year since 2009 despite many new laws.

HSE Number of Prosecutions GraphTable 1: From the HSE website

5.  Obstacles for Claimants

It is not easy to take your employer to court and the reasons you fear the courts are the same reasons that workers do too.

Reasons such as:

  • Legal expenses
  • Time constraints
  • The complexity of the legal process
  • It’s stressful
  • Daunting, especially if you have no legal representation
  • There is no guarantee you will win
  • The process could affect your future job prospects
  • Claimants are often labelled a “troublemaker” in a company and treated badly

That being said, you should still be circumspect with your workers and do your best not to put yourself in a situation where you or your company could justly be sued.

The risk just isn’t worth it.

How to Keep Out of Court

Always know your health and safety risks and deal with workers in a fair and decent way.  If it feels wrong, then it probably is.

Here are some other tips:

  • Look at the HSE website for health and safety advice
  • Look at the websites for advice on employment law, start here with Wikipedia definitions and overview
  • Join trade groups and local business groups
  • Engage an expert early on in your start-up and review work practices regularly
  • Join Facebook and Link In specialist groups for your particular work
  • Attend training courses and read industry magazines
  • Contact your regulatory body for advice (HSE, Local Authority etc)

Keeping workers safe and healthy need not be costly or time-consuming and the sooner you start controlling health and safety risks the easier it will become.  By controlling the environment at work, you will take away many of the fears that niggle your mind, without having to rely on luck or your worker’s difficulties in suing you.

Conclusion

I hope I have explained the chance of one of your workers suing you. As you can see, it is unlikely due to all sorts of reasons. But don’t fall into the trap of complacency and ignore employment and health and safety law.

Am I saying you can’t be sued or won’t be? Of course not, however, it shows why a large percentage of the people who could and should sue you will never go through with it. It’s simply not a practical way to resolve most disputes.

Regardless of how you view my five truths here, there may be something at the back of your mind that needs addressing now. Is there a health and safety or personnel issue that niggles? Perhaps you know a worker struggling with their job?  Don’t just sit on it or forget about it. Start now and try to put it right; you can help both you and your workers, which is really what every business owner/manager wants, right?

Of course!

How to Look After the 'Elf in Health and Safety image
How to Look After the ‘Elf in Health and Safety

By the way, this article is just an overview when it comes to compensation and legal issues! The Book “Looking after the Elf in Health and Safety” I recently published, gives you an insight into protecting health at work and a lot more. As well as other information, publications.

Grab it here

References

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