Tagged: technology

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Practicability and modern inventions

Under rule 35 of the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure, preliminary consideration of an application for review of an a tribunal decision must be done by the employment judge of the tribunal that made the decision. If that is ‘not practicable,’ preliminary consideration may be carried out by another employment judge. A reader has drawn my attention to a case in which preliminary consideration was carried out by the regional employment judge on the grounds that the employment judge of the original tribunal (in Reading) had been promoted into into the position of regional employment judge in a different region (East Anglia), and it was therefore ‘not practicable’ for him to deal with the application.

This seems odd. Getting documents from one place to another within the UK has been cheap and easy for some time. The Uniform Penny Post was introduced in 1840; the invention of the fax machine followed in 1843 (though admittedly it didn’t catch on in a big way more than another 100 years); and email has been a standard means of business communication for something like 20 years. Even a runner with a message in a cleft stick could probably get a review application from Reading to Bury-St-Edmunds in a matter of days.

Anyone who’s ever been on the wrong end of an employment tribunal’s decision that it was ‘reasonably practicable’ for them to present their ET1 on time will be surprised – and perhaps rather dismayed – to see an employment tribunal holding itself to a much lower standard. There may be perfectly sensible reasons why it’s inconvenient for cases to follow employment judges around when they move from one region to another; but if that’s the case, it should be dealt with by redrafting rule 35 – not by pretending that ‘not practicable’ means ‘inconvenient.’

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Email is a useful tool in litigation, and almost all professional representatives use it constantly. If you are a claimant you should consider using email for running your case.

The advantage is speed and convenience of communication. There is nothing you can do with email that you can’t do by post, just a bit more slowly. You can email the other side and the tribunal. The other side will probably email back, although the tribunals still tend to stick to letters. If you have instructed a representative email will be a useful way of keeping in touch with them.

But if you’re not already a regular user of email, it can create difficulties. Because email is so fast, people tend to expect replies to emails within minutes or hours rather than days or weeks. If you put an email address on your ET1 or use email to send messages, people will expect to be able to reach you by email. If you don’t check your email for several weeks – or even several days – the sender will think you are ignoring him. This will create frustration and confusion.

It is better not to have an email address at all unless you check it several times a week.

If you decide to set up an account, the simplest method is to use an online webmail service. If you are a computing snob, the best is probably Google Mail, but Yahoo and Hotmail offer similar services.

People sometimes worry about whether email is secure enough for confidential communications. Sending information over the internet and storing it on computers does raise questions about security. But there’s no reason to be more anxious about computer and internet security than the security of your telephone, fax and postal communications. If you’re worried about that, then either you’re paranoid or they really are out to get you; in the latter case you probably need some specialist security advice, not restricted to computer matters.

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Danger! Do not read this post!

We note with amusement that at least one organisation has added this site to their list of prohibited websites. In other words, somebody feels that they’d rather not have their employees reading our posts. This makes us feel gratifyingly dangerous and edgy.

Joking aside, this probably isn’t a great idea. If you’re an employer, barring access to this blog is unlikely to be an effective way of preventing your employees from finding out that they can sue you. If it has any effect at all, it’s more likely just to piss them off. They’re probably already quite pissed off if they are looking for information on this subject, so the chances are you’ve just made it more likely – not less – that they will sue you.

Moreover, if you’re going to be sued, it will be less annoying on balance for you – and quite often less expensive – to be sued by someone who knows what they’re doing than by someone who hasn’t a clue. So a better plan would be to buy your employees a copy of our book.

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When the machine stops

We are all highly reliant on technology these days. Most litigation will involve three photocopiers; about three fax machines; at least half a dozen phones (including mobiles) and five computers.

No scientific survey has been conducted, so these numbers may be wrong, but the point stands. We use a lot of technology, for very good reasons.

Always bear in mind that this technology is prone to failure. Normally at the worst possible time.

This is something you have to plan for, which is mostly common-sense. If your computer has vital files and emails on it, make sure it’s backed up – and you know how to get at your files if it crashes. If you have a pay as you go mobile, try to avoid running out of minutes the day before the tribunal. Make sure you have paper for your printer if you’re going to need to print out lots of statements.

Most importantly, try not to put yourself in a position where a technical failure will cause a crisis. This basically means trying to get things done in good time. If your fax breaks while you’re trying to send the ET1 you have a problem. But if it happens a week before the deadline, it’s a small problem. If it happens with an hour left to spare, it’s a very serious one. Similarly, trying to repair a photocopier with epoxy glue is rarely fun, but it’s particularly unpleasant the day before a hearing when you have half a dozen bundles to produce.