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Employment Tribunal extension date needed


open letter, Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, Employment Tribunal, harassment, discrimination cases, extension, 3 to 6 months, coronavirus, COVID-19It is essential that the time limits in discrimination and harassment cases are extended as a matter of urgency.

Heads of more than 20 organisations have written to the government to call for the temporary extension of time limits for harassment and discrimination claims to the Employment Tribunal from 3 to 6 months in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The letter’s signatories include campaigning organisations, charities and those providing support to victims of harassment and discrimination.

The current time limit for harassment and discrimination is one of the shortest for any kind of civil claim and the coronavirus pandemic has made this time limit increasingly difficult for prospective claimants to meet.

The joint letter, addressed to the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, calls for the introduction of legislation which will temporarily extend the timeline for those claims for which the deadline falls within the period of the pandemic.

It runs:

Dear Lord Chancellor,

We are writing to you to ask that you protect access to justice for workers who have been subjected to harassment and discrimination by temporarily extending the time limit for those claims to the Employment Tribunal from 3 to 6 months.

COVID-19 has seen an unprecedented shift in the British public’s everyday priorities as we strive to ensure the health of our families and friends, look after our children who are being home-schooled, as well as trying to continue to work–all whilst putting in to effect safe social distancing measures.

The 3-month time limit for bringing a discrimination or harassment claim is one of the shortest limitation periods for any kind of civil case.

The argument for such a limit – that it encourages the prompt resolution of workplace disputes – cannot be maintained in current conditions.

Even before this crisis, the Tribunal’s backlog meant an average of 8.5 months before conclusion and now, with all trials until at least 26 June 2020 converted to case management hearings, this will only lengthen.

The COVID-19 pandemic and our national efforts to combat it have made it increasingly difficult for current and former workers to comply with the 3-month limit for discrimination and harassment claims.

Many law firms and not-for-profit advice agencies are furloughing staff and reducing some services, such as free drop-in clinics.

As the time limit for harassment and discrimination cases runs from what the Tribunal concludes is the last unlawful act, this puts individuals without the benefit of specialist legal advice at a particular disadvantage, as they may not be able to identify when their time will run out.

Further problems arise from the fact that these kinds of claims are more likely to prompt internal grievance investigations than other types of claim and those resulting processes are being delayed significantly by the ongoing lockdown.

Nonetheless, limitation periods run on, meaning people are currently forced to start the ACAS process and issue proceedings before internal investigations are completed.

Finally, the personal and often damaging nature of discrimination and harassment claims often adversely impacts the mental wellbeing of claimants.

There can be no doubt that the current COVID-19 situation exacerbates this particular harm.

While judges have a power to extend the time limit when it is ‘just and equitable,’ this is a high and uncertain bar upon which no prudent claimant would ever rely.

Proper mitigation of these concerns requires the introduction of a temporary extension to the relevant time limits.

As was acknowledged by the Presidents of the Employment Tribunal in guidance provided on 3 April 2020, this change must be made by Parliament.

We call on you to ensure that the Government introduces the relevant legislation to safeguard access to justice for these vulnerable workers during the lockdown period.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this crucial work with you in greater detail and to assist in the development of the necessary policy.

Yours sincerely,

Clare Collier, Advocacy Director, Liberty; Andrea Coomber, Director, JUSTICE; Julie Bishop, Director, the Law Centres Network; Chilli Reed, Executive Director, Advice UK and others.

Chilli Reed, Executive Director of Advice UK, said: “AdviceUK members are seeing a significant increase in employment enquiries as a direct result of COVID- 19.

“This increased demand comes at a time when advisers are facing real challenges to deliver a service remotely.

“In order to protect vulnerable employees, it is essential that the time limits in discrimination and harassment cases are extended as a matter of urgency.”

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