Workers could pay more than £2,300 to take an employer to an industrial tribunal under new measures that were last night condemned as a denial of justice for the lowest paid.
Ministers said the move was to trim the £84m cost of the tribunal system and ease pressure on businesses defending claims.
It follows proposals to double to two years the qualifying period for claiming unfair dismissal and suggestions that the smallest firms could be exempted from labour laws.
Unveiling the plans, Jonathan Djanogly, the justice minister, said the cost of tribunals was unsustainable and that the proposed fees, to be introduced in 2013-14, would spur businesses and workers to settle disagreements through mediation.
An employee could be charged £600 to lodge a claim, with an extra £1,750 fee for those seeking more than £30,000 in compensation.
The fees would be refunded where claimants won their cases.
Mr Djangoly claimed the charges would be waived for low earners.
But Brendan Barber, head of the TUC, said it would "prevent the poorest and most vulnerable workers from ever being able to get justice".