MPs call for tribunal time limit to be doubled
MPs have called for the current three-month time limit to bring certain Employment Tribunal claims to be extended.
Mike Penning, Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead and former minister in the Ministry of Justice, argued that the time limit should be extended to six months to offer more flexibility to those who had left employment under difficult circumstances.
“I know there are arguments that people might forget what went on or that the company would be left in abeyance, but that is not going to happen a huge amount of times,” he said. “What we are looking for is fairness and natural justice, and our constituents have the right to feel that justice has fitted them.”
At present, claims for unfair dismissal must be brought within three months of being dismissed unless the judge decides it was ‘not reasonably practicable’ for the ex-employee to have filed by that deadline. The time limit is also three months for discrimination claims, but the test applied by the judge is whether it is ‘just and equitable’ to extend the time limit.
Claims for redundancy pay and equal pay already have a longer time limit of six months.
Penning recalled the case of one of his constituents who had attempted to bring an unfair dismissal claim on behalf of her deceased husband. Her husband had passed away aged 40 of a heart condition, which had potentially been exacerbated by stress. However, when Penning’s constituent brought the claim to Tribunal, she was not only cross-examined as to whether her husband would have really wanted to bring the claim – an experience Penning described as ‘abhorrent’ and ‘enormously distressing’ – but the judge also ruled she was out of time.
Meanwhile, Maria Miller, Conservative MP for Basingstoke and chair of the women and equalities select committee, argued that the current three-month time limit was particularly punitive for women who wished to bring a case because they had been discriminated against because of pregnancy, as it means they have to make decisions on claims ‘when they may well be pregnant or have very small children’.
A report published by the women and equalities committee last year also recommended extending the claim time limit for new and expectant mothers, suggesting that six months would be more suitable.
Responding to the MPs’ comments yesterday, Business Minister Margot James said she was,
“very sympathetic to the concern and horror expressed” by Penning on behalf of his constituent, and confirmed that her department was reviewing “whether we need stronger protection against redundancy for pregnant women and women returning from maternity leave”.
However, Barry Stanton, head of employment law at Boyes Turner, said he felt it was “unlikely” the time limit would be changed, “because that [limit] is well-known, Employment Tribunals were intended to provide speedy justice for employees, and it is also important that employers know where they stand”
Nicholas Le Riche, employment partner at Bircham Dyson Bell, said:
“Coming hot off the heels of the withdrawal of Tribunal fees, the prospect of employers facing an even greater number of claims through the extension of the ordinary three-month time limit won’t be welcome. In most cases, the existing time limit works well as it helps to focus employees’ minds on whether they want to bring a claim while providing employers with some certainty about whether they will face legal action.”
This article first appeared at PeopleManagement.com and is reproduced with kind permission.