Recently introduced powers for the Employment Tribunal in Jersey could give local employers greater confidence when considering whether or not to defend unfair dismissal claims from former employers, according to the conclusions of a recent mock tribunal hosted by law firm Mourant du Feu & Jeune and attended by over 75 industry HR specialists.

The event, which took place on Friday 19th March at The Club Hotel in conjunction with the Jersey Branch of CIPD, examined how the new powers afforded to the Jersey Employment Tribunal (JET) might be dealt with following changes to Jersey’s Employment Law last year.

By recreating aspects of a real employment tribunal, with a team of lawyers from the firm playing different characters, the event highlighted that the recent legislative changes give the JET the power to reduce an employee’s award for unfair dismissal in certain circumstances. At the same time, however, the amendments mean that the JET now also has the power to direct an employee to be re-employed.

Chaired and facilitated by Helen Ruelle, Senior Associate and Head of Mourant du Feu & Jeune's employment practice area, the mock tribunal, together with the audience, were asked to vote on whether a fictitious employee had been fairly dismissed, whether he should be re-employed and what, if any, award should be granted by the tribunal. Whilst the exercise found that the employee was unfairly dismissed because a fair procedure hadn't been followed, it also determined that his award should be reduced by 75% because of the impact that his behaviour had on his own dismissal. The tribunal also found that the employee could not be re-employed by the Bank primarily because his behaviour had led to a breakdown in trust between him and other employees.

Asked for its views, the audience largely agreed that the employee was unfairly dismissed. However, only 52% of attendees thought that his award should be reduced, and half of those felt that the award should be reduced by 50% or more.

Helen Ruelle, who was recently appointed Deputy Chairman of Jersey's Employment Forum which consults and makes recommendations on employment legislation, said:

“Traditionally in Jersey, employers have tended to try to avoid employment tribunals at all costs – particularly given recent economic conditions, which have led to a greater potential for employment disputes. However, as this mock tribunal showed, the new powers of the Jersey Employment Tribunal can significantly reduce the awards to former employees claiming unfair dismissal.

“Although employers also need to consider the possibility of the JET awarding re-employment, the new powers should give businesses which have acted in accordance with the law a great deal more confidence in an environment that is relatively foreign to them. We wanted to show employers what is really involved in a tribunal hearing and many of those attending were clearly surprised with our conclusions.”

The Guernsey Employment & Discrimination Tribunal has had the power to reduce unfair dismissal awards since 2005 and, whilst at first there were few decisions in respect of reductions, the use of this power and the size of the reductions is increasing. It remains to be seen how the JET will use its new powers.