Watertight Case Management is Key to Employment Disputes
The Government’s job retention scheme came to an end on 30 September. Since March 2020, the support has been in place to help businesses in the UK protect jobs and reduce costs in wake of the impact of the pandemic.
According to figures as of August 2021, 11.6M people from across 1.3M employers were on furlough at some point – with the latest stats in the lead up to the end of the scheme, stating there were still 1.6M receiving the support.
For legal practitioners practising employment law, they may be about to get a whole lot busier, if they weren’t already. According to a story in City AM earlier this year, legal disputes and cases against UK businesses have more than doubled in the past two years. Wrongful dismissal and constructive dismissal rank high in the types of cases being brought forward.
People returning to work from furlough is not as straightforward as simply returning to their desk or logging back on. There will be those who have spent nearly the entire pandemic on furlough, if not a significant chunk of that time. That’s potentially up to around 18 months without seeing colleagues, being physically in the place of work and carrying out typical responsibilities. A lot has changed.
Employees may return to find a completely different team in their department, new ways of working like working remotely, a different technology system in place to the one they were used to using, Covid-19 protocols to follow and depending on their work, possibly new legislation and governing rules. It will be like starting a new job for some and businesses will need to onboard them like they have just been recruited. On the other side, there will, unfortunately, be people who will not have a role to return to or may be moved into a new position. This of course can lead to disputes.
Some businesses have been putting off dealing with staffing issues while the job retention scheme has been in place. And now that it’s over, they are having to face the reality of resolving them. Almost every dispute that follows the wake of the end of furlough is going to be unique. There could be cases of staff where a disciplinary or an issue already existed and furlough postponed action being taken, complicating the case entirely. Many staff may come back off furlough and claim they’re owed over a year’s worth of annual leave, some are likely to need a lot of extra support and flexible working claims are going to be put forward too. There is going to be lots for businesses and their legal partners to work through.
For lawyers, it goes without saying that adequate file notes are going to be an absolute must to ensure that fair and rightful outcomes are found for both businesses and employees. These notes will not only support legal practitioners in cases but many employers are likely to turn to their legal advisors to help draft internal communications due to the sensitivity needed when communicating with staff. That might be revising contracts, outlining new roles or possible redundancy action taking place.
A robust case management system provides lawyers with an advantage on ensuring they have detailed file notes for each case they are working on. The modern case management system usually has the functionality to automate many key admin tasks associated with a well managed and maintained case. This helps to ease communication between lawyer and client, freeing up legal practitioners to focus on advising and supporting the needs of clients, rather than getting bogged down in updating files and staying on top of notes – something which can be prone to human error, especially if lawyers are working long hours and their time is squeezed.
The good news is many legal firms are increasing their use of technology and investment in it, making it a priority to support their teams. Many see tech as a key way to innovate and improve quality of service and experience for clients. According to research commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), 55 per cent of the 891 law firms that were surveyed have improved or increased their use of technology in the last year, while 48 per cent made changes in delivery of services and 35 per cent introduced new technology.
As indicated previously, disputes against businesses were already on the rise even before the pandemic and the job retention scheme was introduced. As law firms continue to invest in tech and improve services, legal services are becoming more accessible to the general public and therefore more people are likely to feel they can take legal action when they believe they have a case to be heard.
It means for legal firms supporting businesses, they will need to ensure their teams have the tools and tech they need to provide the best possible support to clients. Watertight case management is the bedrock of that support and having the right system in place, could make a world of difference.
For more about Access Legal, visit: https://www.theaccessgroup.com/en-gb/legal/.