Tribunal system ‘buckling’ as crisis unleashes host of cases
- Credit: PHILIP TOSCANO/PA WIRE
Furlough and coronavirus-related cases are adding to a mounting backlog of employment tribunal cases, lawyers have warned.
Vanessa Bell, head of employment at Ipswich law firm Prettys, warned employers and employees are “losing faith” in the system as it struggled to cope with an increasing number of claims without the resource to do so.
The Citizens Advice Bureau has also warned that a third of cases are being dropped as claimants tire of waiting for justice.
“The courts are in an extremely challenging situation with a huge backlog of claims alongside an anticipated influx in new employment tribunal cases following the wave of redundancies in the last quarter,” said Mrs Bell.
“For both employers and employees this is creating a significant amount of uncertainty and upheaval.
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“It is understood that even relatively straight-forward cases are suffering a six month wait while the more complex claims — such as those involving discrimination — might not come to a conclusion until 2022.”
Redundancies soared between September and December as firms cut staff because of the pandemic — before chancellor Rishi Sunak decided to shore up employment by extending the furlough scheme.
Latest figures suggest 730,000 jobs have now been lost from payrolls since the pandemic began.
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Alongside claims resulting from the high number of redundancies, there were also likely to be claims lodged arising from furlough arrangements and Covid-19 — in particular, health and safety concerns related to employees being required to return to the workforce, said Mrs Bell.
This means pressure on the tribunal system is likely to continue, she warned.
Employment tribunals have been prioritising pandemic-related dismissal claims on health and safety grounds since June. The government has given an £80m boost to the Courts and Tribunal Service to help the courts system adapt during the pandemic — but Mrs Bell called for more action.
“Employment tribunals need more emergency funding and their resources overall need to be urgently looked at,” she said. “Until then, disgruntled employees should speak to their employer — or former employer — prior to lodging a claim and employers should deal with grievances and complaints effectively and swiftly.
“Often conversation can resolve disputes before they reach legal action and employers and employees are in uncharted territory so it is sensible to avoid legal action if possible. Where it isn’t possible, our advice would be to collect together documents and draft witness statements early because chances are the long wait may mean facts are forgotten and evidence lost.”