The truth about Tribunal Indemnity Insurance

Many busy SME owners choose outsourced HR providers based on the fact that Tribunal Indemnity Insurance is offered and so they feel they have mitigated against a potential financial risk and made a good choice.

However many don’t fully understand what this insurance is and the impact on their business of signing up to such a service. They also have little idea of what risks if any they actually have in their business of someone making a successful claim against them. This blog explains it further.

What is it Tribunal Indemnity Insurance?

Because employment law can appear complex and full of tricky loopholes, the scaremongers selling tribunal indemnity insurance often have a field day by playing on people’s fears of something that can in many circumstances be prevented.

Tribunal indemnity insurance takes various forms which range from insurance against all legal and compensation costs arising from a tribunal claim, to just simply covering legal costs or nothing at all because you didn’t follow their rules.

As with any insurance policy, the first step is to think about the risk you are insuring against. It’s an easy decision for an electrical firm with a warehouse near a river to insure against flood damage. If there’s a flood, all of the stock could be wiped out and the business could go bust. The risk is high, and so is the potential cost of the insured event.

For business owners, it’s not so easy to quantify the risk and potential costs of a tribunal claim, so they go for peace of mind, and take the insurance. The reality is that there are many steps in the journey to an employment tribunal, and an employer who has sensible HR policies and procedures in place, and follows them, is at a very low risk of losing an employment tribunal claim. Even if the employer loses the claim and has to make a compensation payment, the costs are often nowhere near as high as expected.

The claim with the highest sum awarded was in a sex discrimination claim. These are technically uncapped, and can also include awards for injury to feelings.  But the median award in 2016/17 for Sex Discrimination claims was £8,381and for Disability Discrimination it was £10,235. Although there will always be media stories about huge successful claims, they are rare, and the median award is a more realistic indicator of your potential financial risk. The median compensation payment for Unfair Dismissal claims in the same period was £ 7,521.

Three things you should know about Tribunal Indemnity Insurance

No 1 – You may not even need it

The electrical services company will not sit and watch the river rising or not worry about their stock, just because they have insurance. They will use sandbags, move the stock to higher shelves, and stand by with buckets to bale out the water as it flows in. Nobody wants to have to deal with the aftermath of a flood. It’s better to prevent the damage in the first place. If business owners took the same approach to people issues, and took notice and practical action early on, there would be little risk of a tribunal claim, and therefore little need for an insurance policy.

There are HR experts, like us, who can explain all the rules, and help managers to take each step carefully, ensuring that employees are treated fairly and that the needs of the business are also met. This is equivalent to using sandbags.

If managers are not capable of handling an issue with performance, or there is a persistent problem, such as bullying and harassment, then HR experts, can provide training, coaching and even hand holding to support them. This is effectively like moving the stock to higher shelves. But the effect is longer lasting as they are learning how to manage such situations and won’t be fearful of them.

If matters are so serious that the employee is likely to be able to make a claim at an employment tribunal, there are HR experts like Amelore, who can help the business to evaluate the risk of a successful claim, and mediate between the employer and employee.  If that doesn’t work/or it’s to late for that then they can negotiate the terms of a settlement agreement, making a financial payment to the employee to leave the business and waive all their rights to making a claim against you. This is not desirable, and does cost money, but still salvages the situation, a bit like baling water with a bucket. However often this will be much less than you think.

No 2 – Not all of your costs will be covered

If the tribunal claim goes ahead, there will be legal costs, but much more significantly, there will be huge management time lost in the preparation and aftermath of a tribunal – these costs will not be covered by the insurance. The impact on employee motivation, and even on management morale, which ultimately hits the bottom line of the business, doesn’t have a price, and therefore isn’t covered by the insurance.

Using a pragmatic, knowledgeable HR professional to avoid the problem will always be cheaper than paying a lawyer to fix it.

No 3 – Insurance companies don’t like paying out

The real nub of the issue is this – there are so many ‘get out’ clauses in the tribunal indemnity insurance, that an employer runs a real risk of thinking they are covered, only to find that the insurance company then gives lots of reasons why they won’t pay out.

If the insurance is offered as part of an HR service, there will be a big caveat stating that if the employer doesn’t consult the service provider and follow the employment law advice to the letter, the insurance will be invalidated.

This also means that the HR service provider is likely to sit on the fence, or tell their client what the law is, without committing to a recommendation, for fear of invalidating the insurance. So the whole process will go on and on whereas most SME’s need a quick resolution so they can focus on their business.

Some providers may even boast that they help their clients to make sure their paperwork is correct, so that if a claim goes to tribunal, they will have a ‘bundle’ already prepared, saving lots of time. It doesn’t save lots of time for the business owner or manager trying to do their day job and providing them with that paperwork.

In our experience the vast majority of employees are reasonable people, who in turn want to be treated reasonably by their employer. The vast majority of managers and business owners want to have happy, engaged employees.

Surely everyone’s time and effort would be better spent building good relationships, ironing out misunderstandings, and dealing in a reasonable way with problems, than filling in forms, following scripts and ticking boxes to make sure that the tribunal insurance is not invalidated?

Summary

So in summary our advice is if you are looking at HR outsourcing providers don’t base your decision on fear.  Fear of something you don’t fully understand. If anyone is selling you their services and using fear as their main incentive ask yourself why?

A good HR outsourcing provider will audit your business and then make clear practical proportionate recommendations to ensure you are legally compliant and have good HR practices embedded. This may involve training your managers. This significantly reduces the risk of a successful claim against your business.

Also take care that the outsourced HR provider you select doesn’t tie you into a long notice period as that will tell you something important about them. Long notice periods are designed to cover poor service. Most SME’s don’t have the time or the energy to battle their way out of a contract they have signed in a rush without understanding the potentially negative consequences.

If you do have an employee dispute and are supported by an outsourced HR provider that doesn’t offer Tribunal Indemnity Insurance, this will be dealt with swiftly and you will benefit from pragmatic commercial advice about your options and any risks.

At Amelore we don’t offer Tribunal Indemnity Insurance. We work with businesses and individuals and firm but fair. We have also never been successfully taken to an Employment Tribunal.  We are not complacent about that fact but we are extremely proud of it.

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