Today the Law Commission revealed its recommendations to improve how Employment Tribunal disputes are decided, including a proposed extension of the time limit for all claims to six months (currently it is three months for most claims including discrimination and whistleblowing claims).

The Law Commission also suggests Employment Tribunals should also have the power to extend time limits in all cases where they consider it “just and equitable” to do so.  Currently there is an ability to extend time limits in some cases where it is “not reasonably practicable” to meet the limitation date.

Caroline Field, Partner at Fox & Partners, the employment and partnership law specialists, comments:

“A time limit extension to six months would make it easier for individuals to bring complex claims, such as those involving whistleblowing and discrimination.”

“There are significant hurdles for claimants bringing such claims, including accessing relevant documentation and collation of other evidence. The current time limits may be a barrier to access justice for legitimate claims.”

“The three-month timescale puts both employees and employers running complex investigations, for example, into discrimination and harassment allegations, under pressure.  Often those processes must be completed before there is any prospect of meaningful discussions around settlement, meaning claimants have to bring a claim to protect their position.”

“Reaching a sensible financial settlement or a resolution that might preserve the employment relationship can then become more difficult.  These tight timescales are a particularly vexed issue where complex internal processes are being delayed by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Fox & Partners says other significant proposals outlined by the Law Commission include:

–          that claimants should be able to bring a breach of contract claim during employment and that the jurisdiction in employment tribunals to hear breach of contract claims be increased from £25,000 to £100,000.  Where the financial value of breach of contract claims do not exceed the cap, this will ensure all claims can be pursued in one forum and reduce the overall cost of litigation in those cases.

–          the creation of a new informal specialist “Employment and Equalities List” for specialist employment related matters within the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court to ensure that employment-related claims are heard by judges who are recognised as specialists in the field. Claims for breach of restrictive covenants, breach of confidence, wrongful dismissal and other breach of contract claims (where the sums exceed the tribunal’s jurisdiction) and other employee competition cases, including team move and garden leave disputes would be within its remit. This is likely to be welcomed by litigants and contentious employment law practitioners

In relation to the proposals generally, Caroline Field added:

“These proposals could make a big difference to litigants, the courts and tribunals, and the government needs to pick up on them. They should not be left to gather dust.”

A full list of the proposals can be found here.