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07 Jun, 2012

Mock tribunal delivers an insight into the tribunal process and highlights the need for better training.

 

One of the messages conveyed loud and clear at a recent mock tribunal organised by ARM Consulting in partnership with Clarke Willmott LLP was the severity of the situation. The room had been laid out like a real tribunal and as the staff from ARM Consulting took their roles as claimant and respondent and Clarke Willmott LLP staff performed as advocates, the tension and pressure of the situation was made very evident to all of the 40 delegates watching the events unfold. The event had been organised as a training exercise and the first message was delivered loud and clear – HR professionals need to acknowledge the severity of a tribunal case, take all steps possible to avoid such an outcome and ensure they are fully prepared if the event is unavoidable.

 

Barrister Marc Long (pictured), Head of Employment and Partner at Clarke Willmott LLP took the role of the judge in the training exercise which took the facts and circumstances from a real-life, highly emotive case of constructive dismissal. Legal protocol was adhered to throughout the process to give a strong sense of the opportunities and limitations of the tribunal proceedings and also served to maintain the tense atmosphere. The aggressive nature of the cross-examination and the brusque manner of the judge were acted out to replicate the high stakes of the situation and the importance of preparation. As a training exercise, regular breaks were given to allow all the delegates to cross examine the witnesses.

 

One of the most striking elements of the case presented was the limited involvement of the HR function – neither claimant nor respondent had sought advice from HR professionals throughout the process, which came as a surprise to many of the delegates and opened up a discussion on how to educate senior managers as to the role of HR. In the case given, the claimant had no faith in the grievance procedure and felt that “HR couldn’t do anything,” to stop the workplace stress and perceived bullying encountered. The respondent simply felt the problems “weren’t a big deal” and that they could “handle it themselves.” In this circumstance, the company had handled themselves straight to a tribunal.

 

The event gave a fascinating insight into the perception of HR across an organisation and highlighted areas HR professionals need to focus on in order to avoid a costly and time consuming tribunal.

“Tribunals can be intimidating environments,” says Marc Long. “Unfortunately in the tough economic times we are seeing more cases progress to a full hearing as parties become increasingly reluctant to settle. Mock Tribunal training sessions such as these allow managers and staff to prepare better for potential proceedings while reinforcing the importance of Human Resources input.”

 

As a department, HR needs to be more proactive in educating all senior managers as to their obligations and responsibilities regarding staff management and company procedure. In situations where a problem arises and is made evident – for example, by the presentation of a doctor’s note confirming absence due to workplace stress – HR professionals need to have procedures in place to take action regardless of whether or not anyone has initiated a formal complaint or been asked advice.

 

Legal proceedings are on the rise and HR professionals need to be prepared – the mock tribunal had been organised after regular discussions and queries at the ARM Consulting HR forum demonstrated demand. The event highlighted how the obligations of HR go beyond policy and procedure and spoke to the need for improved internal communications and a better profile for the department within an organisation. ARM Consulting works with their clients to deliver bespoke training and many of the delegates at the event came away with not just a clearer understanding of the tribunal process, but also the outline of a plan for on-going training both for their HR teams and senior staff to prevent the need for a tribunal. One thing all the delegates agreed on was that they had no wish to face a brusque and demanding judge to answer for their company’s actions at a tribunal.

 

Wendy Freeman is the team leader of the training department at ARM Consulting in Hampshire. She runs a regular HR forum for professionals to meet and discuss their concerns and challenges in a confidential environment and works with a team of experts to deliver a range of training options from events to bespoke packages for companies of all sizes.

Marc Long has been listed in the Legal 500 and is listed by Legal Experts as a leading employment lawyer. Based in the Southampton office of Clarke Willmott LLP, Marc advises on all aspects of employment law and is a chosen speaker for ACAS.

 

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