Statutory questionnaires are being abolished in discrimination cases with effect from 6th April 2014. Up until now, Claimants in discrimination cases could serve questionnaires on Respondents about any alleged discrimination. If Respondents did not answer these questions sufficiently (i.e. refusing to respond or answering in an ambiguous or evasive manner) then a tribunal could draw adverse inferences in favour of the Claimant.
In practice, the questionnaires have been used very little and the government has decided to get rid of them. However, Claimants will still be able to ask questions of their employer with regard to discrimination which can be used as evidence in the tribunal. ACAS has therefore produced some useful new guidance on asking and responding to questions of discrimination in the workplace. As a matter of common sense if an employer unreasonably fails to provide accurate answers to informal questions, the tribunal might rely on that to draw an adverse inference anyway.
Our view is that the abolition of statutory questionnaires is a sensible decision. In our experience, the few times they have been used by Claimants has often been a tactic to increase the time and costs on Respondents by having to answer a long list of questions, many of which were often irrelevant to the case at hand. As employers, you should be aware that, even though the statutory questionnaire process has gone, if Claimants ask reasonable questions about discrimination you should ensure that these are answered sufficiently to avoid any adverse inferences being made by the tribunal.
At Frettens, all of our solicitors offer a free initial meeting to chat on the phone to answer your questions. If this article raises issues for you or your business, please call us on 01202 499255 and Kate or Paul will be happy to discuss it with you.