Discrimination cases may take up to 14 months in tribunal

Employment tribunal claimants are having to wait until December 2021 for court hearings in discrimination cases. 

Delays at employment tribunals are continuing to grow with discrimination cases having to wait as much as 14 months for a court hearing, according to  research by specialist employment law firm GQ|Littler.

The research found London South employment tribunal is not listing court hearings for discrimination cases until December 2021, whilst Southampton is listing hearings for August 2021, and Bristol for April 2021.

High workloads and a shortage of staff at the London Central employment tribunal has also resulted in telephone hold times now stretching to five hours for those calling to discuss the scheduling of hearings.

The delays between employment tribunals receiving claims and then listing them for a hearing shows the pressure resources at tribunals are under.

Many are working through large backlogs of claims that have steadily built up since tribunal fees were abolished in 2017.

Delays mean employers can face uncertainty for months over the outcome of a claim, with senior management often distracted from other issues as a result. Delays for legal disputes with employees to get settled may also mean prolonged reputational damage for businesses.

The delays also impact employees, who may be depending on a tribunal award to pay their bills.

“With delays stretching up to 14 months the employment tribunal system has almost ground to a halt,” Raoul Parekh, partner at GQ|Littler said.

A raft of new measures to alleviate the pressure employment tribunals have just come into force. These measures include the following:

  • Allowing non-employment judges to take on cases
  • Extending ACAS early conciliation periods to increase the chance of settlement
  • Measures to reduce the administrative tasks that judges have to complete

However, Parekh says these measures do not address the scale of the underfunding and the lack of frontline judicial and support staff at employment tribunals that has resulted.

“The judicial system has suffered from years of underfunding. This has created a huge backlog as employment tribunals have limited capacity to manage the case load. This has been worsened by COVID, with schedules being pushed even further back.”

“The pandemic has given rise to a whole host of new employment law issues. With a spike in tribunal cases widely anticipated, the problem is only likely to get worse before it gets better.”

The new measures proposed by the Government are welcomed by many in the legal profession, Parekh added. However, they only scratch the surface, addressing the consequences of the problem and not the cause – a lack of resources.

“Delays at tribunals can trigger a downward spiral – they often create more friction between employees and employers and in turn drag out claims even further.”

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