A recent decision by the Employment Appeal Tribunal gave a clear and important answer to this question.
The claimant had been working as a senior manager at PwC for more than four years. She brought four claims before the Employment Tribunal against her employer for discrimination.
In the first preliminary hearing which occurred in January 2017, it appears that the claimant and her mother, who accompanied her, behaved in a disruptive way and in a manner the judge found unacceptable.
The following year, the Employment Tribunal judgment was entered in the Public Register and therefore became accessible online and via a simple Google search of the claimant’s name.
A year later, the claimant raised concerns about the online publication of the judgment on the Public Register saying that it could damage her future professional life. She then asked for the proceedings to be removed from the Register or alternatively for an Anonymity Order to be made (which would have removed the name of the claimant).
The claimant’s appeal was focused on Rule 50 of the Employment Tribunal Rules which states that “the Employment Tribunal has a discretion to make a Restricted Reporting Order in a case which involves allegations of sexual misconduct, or in a disability discrimination claim where evidence of a personal nature is likely to be heard”. She also invoked Article 8 of the ECHR which provides the “right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence”.
At first instance, the Employment Tribunal refused both applications.
On appeal the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that:
- The Employment Tribunal correctly stated that it has no power to remove a judgment from the Public Register and that there had been no basis to overrule the principle of open justice.
- The Employment Tribunal correctly exercised its discretion in refusing to make an Anonymity Order under Rule 50.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that the matters the claimant objected to had been the subject of discussions at a public hearing. Therefore, it did not engage Article 8, meaning that the claimant could have no expectations of privacy in that regard as “the fact that the record of the proceedings, published without restriction, might be ‘painful, humiliating, or deterrent’ would not, of itself, mean that it should not be made public”.
It is now clear that the Employment Tribunal is unlikely to remove potentially embarrassing details about an employment dispute from the online Public Register, even if one of the parties would rather their dispute remained private.
This case is a useful reminder that online coverage of Employment Tribunal proceedings can carry great reputation risks for all the parties involved. A claimant, respondent and their lawyers should therefore be particularly mindful about what is said during a preliminary hearing or trial, and it may be prudent for them to seek reputation management support at an early stage of the case.