In comparison to other types of legal claim, most Employment Tribunal time limits are very short. For example, in the civil courts the limitation period is six years for a breach of contract claim, yet in the Employment Tribunal the equivalent time limit would be three months.
I have dealt with many employers over the years who may have been half expecting a claim from an employee, and who ticked off the days and weeks on the calendar until they got past three months and could be fairly sure that a claim wasn’t going to arrive.
Of course, as we have previously covered, the ACAS early conciliation process does potentially extend the three month deadline slightly, but even so, there is a huge difference between 6 years and 3 months!
The discrepancy between Tribunal time limits and those elsewhere was one reason for a motion being proposed in the House of Commons earlier this month for Employment Tribunal time limits to be doubled from three months to six months.
What is the current position?
The current limits for the most common Employment Tribunal claims are as follows:
|Type of claim||Current time limit|
|Unfair dismissalWritten reasons for dismissal
Wrongful dismissal/breach of contract
Unlawful deduction from wages claims
Protective award claims
Claims for breach of the right to be accompanied
|3 months – unless it was “not reasonably practicable” to bring the claim within that period|
|Claims for a redundancy payment||6 months|
|Equal Pay claims||6 months|
|Discrimination claims (for any protected characteristic)||3 months or such other period as the Tribunal feels is “just and equitable”|
As you can see from the above table, the time limits for things like unfair dismissal, unlawful deduction from wages and breach of contract claims are fairly strictly enforced, and will only be extended by the Employment Tribunal where it was not ‘reasonably practicable’ for the Claimant to file their claim in time – which is a very high hurdle to reach in practice. In discrimination claims the test is less stringent, and claims outside the time limit may be allowed if the Tribunal feel it is “just and equitable” in the circumstances.
Time limits can be a tricky area, so if you are dealing with a case where limitation may be an issue, do get in touch with our team for specialist advice.
How likely is it that time limits will change as a result of these proposals?
The main argument that appears to have been put forward for increasing the time limits is that the current system unfairly disadvantages people who are going through difficult personal circumstances at the time of their dismissal (such as if they are pregnant or on maternity leave, or if they have been bereaved), and that the rigidity of the current system prevents those kinds of circumstances from being taken into account.
So, will anything change? Well, any increase in time limits is likely to be strongly resisted by employers. From what I have seen so far, I am not convinced that there is enough weight behind these proposals to really push for the status quo to be altered. Having said that, we have of course only recently seen the abolition of Tribunal fees, and part of the Supreme Court’s reasoning for finding Tribunal fees unlawful was the disproportionate effect that the fees had on women and minority groups. On that basis, I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility of time limits changing. We will of course keep you updated on any developments arising on this issue.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).