The Law Commission has told the government that the employment tribunal system is not working as well as it should and recommends a six-month time limit to bring any type of claim in a report published today.
The commission was tasked with reviewing the jurisdiction of employment tribunals, and the areas where they share jurisdiction with the civil courts to hear employment and discrimination claims. A Civil Courts Structure Review by Lord Justice Briggs noted an ‘awkward area’ of shared and exclusive jurisdiction, which generated boundary issues between the courts and employment tribunal system.
The commission says the majority of people who responded to its consultation supported time limits being extended. There is currently a three-month window for some claims. ‘We note that the three-month limit dates back to the original conception of tribunals as a speedy and informal forum for resolving employment disputes, but that today claims take longer to be resolved and are often more complex and may involve large sums.’
The recommendation comes in the same week several justice bodies urged the lord chancellor to temporarily double the time limit for discrimination or harassment claims to protect employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. They say that even before the current crisis, it took an average of nearly nine months for a case to conclude and will only get worse post-lockdown.
The commission says employment tribunals should be empowered to decide claims of breach of contract brought by workers while they are still employed. At present, the employee must have left the employer before they can bring a claim. Employment tribunals should also be empowered to award damages in breach of contract claims of up to £100,000. The current limit is £25,000 and the proposed reform would reduce the need to pursue claims in different courts.
Other recommendations include allowing employment judges experienced in hearing discrimination claims to be deployed to sit in the county court to hear discrimination cases outside of the employment field.
Law commissioner Nicholas Paines QC said: ‘Employment tribunals play an important role in resolving disputes and protecting the rights of workers. However, the system is not working as well as it should. The reforms we have recommended will bring real benefits for the courts and tribunals system and its users. The adjustments will improve employment tribunals’ ability to resolve employment disputes as effectively and justly as possible in one place.’
Even though the country is in lockdown, the commission said the reforms in today’s report are largely technical and some can be taken forward without the need for primary legislation.