New Claims soar at employment tribunals during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that there has been a sharp rise in the number of multiple cases being pursued in the employment tribunals coupled with an increase in disputes over working time and age discrimination.  The number of working time claims was actually higher than those for unfair dismissal.

A multiple case is where class actions are pursued by a number of employees who work for the same employer, and who for example may have been made redundant at the same time through a major restructuring exercise.

In the latest period recording statistics from October to December 2020, single claims involving just the one employee increased by 25% compared with the same period in 2019, but there was an exceptional 82% rise in the number of multiple cases with 29,000 claims being received by the employment tribunal system.

According to the Ministry of Justice this was the result of high numbers of claims against single employers, with 1,000 multiple claim cases, up from 630 for the equivalent period in 2019. In addition, there were 27 claims per multiple case in 2020 as opposed to 12 claims per multiple case in the equivalent previous period.

The Ministry of Justice also cited the increase in unemployment and changes to working conditions caused by the Covid-19 Pandemic and predicts that there will be steeper increases in the number of employment tribunal claims as the Furlough scheme is wound down and ends in September.

The statistics also disclose that the employment tribunal system dealt with 14,000 claims during the period October to December 2020, which represents a 24% increase on the same period in 2019.

The increase in claims for age discrimination are also quite worrying especially if employers are targeting older members of staff when implementing redundancies, or vice versa in that they may also be targeting younger members of staff who collectively have been particularly hit by job losses during the Pandemic or have suffered changes to their terms and conditions during periods of Furlough.

The increase in the number of employment tribunal claims also coincides with an increase in the backlog of cases which is impacting on Claimants and the overall sense and recognition that this is not in the interests of justice. The increase in the backlog of cases was causing waits of up to 46 weeks for a hearing during the period, up from 41 weeks before the pandemic.

The average waiting time between an employment tribunal receiving a claim and it being heard at a full merits hearing has hit 323 days during the peak pandemic months of April-September 2020 – up from 284 days pre-Covid.

In some employment tribunals, Claimants are waiting months for their claims to be processed by the Tribunal administrative staff, and then they have to wait more than a year for their claim to be heard at a full merits hearing. The longer the length of the hearing the more likely it will be that the case will not be heard until well into 2022.

Conversely some employment tribunal claims which do not require a full panel and which can be heard by an employment judge sitting alone, for example in disputes involving arrears of pay, are in my experience being listed quite quickly, say within a few months. Such hearings are increasingly being conducted remotely via video conferencing facilities.

The Government is also on a recruitment drive to hire more employment judges and also more administrative staff to deal with sifting the numbers of employment tribunal claims more quickly, combined with the use of non-employment judges to deal with the more routine and administrative tasks.

The ACAS Early Conciliation period was also extended earlier this year to 6 weeks to try and increase the number of prospective claims that might settle. To date there are no statistics on how the extended Early Conciliation period has impacted on the number of potential cases being settled.

It has to be said that the current situation whereby employees are having to wait more than a year for their case to be heard is unacceptable and is not in the interests of justice.  Some would argue that such delays play into the hands of employers, who may be more prepared to cut corners with employment rights knowing that it is a safe bet that any hearing will not happen for a long time, and that such delays may affect the memories of witnesses and persuade employees to give up or not even bother pursuing their rights.

If you have any questions about employment tribunals then contact Steven Eckett – Partner and Head of Employment at Meaby & Co LLP. Tel: 020 7703 5034 or E-mail seckett@meaby.co.uk