Solicitors’ leaders today warned that action must be taken to clear the employment tribunal backlog ahead of an anticipated avalanche of post-Covid claims.
The employment tribunal system needs increased resources to be able to deliver justice promptly, says the Law Society of England and Wales.
Employers and employees already face prolonged periods of uncertainty with long waiting times for cases to be heard.
Since employment tribunal fees were abolished in 2017, the number of claims has increased substantially, without the same increase in resources.
The Covid-19 pandemic – and resulting uncertainty and redundancies - is anticipated to result in another spike in cases.
Indeed, Judge Barry Clarke, president of the employment tribunals for England and Wales, said recently that there is likely to be an ‘increase in redundancy-related dismissals’ as the government’s job retention scheme is wound down.
“If employment tribunals cannot hear cases in a short timeframe there will be many unsettled claims over the next two years,” said Law Society president Simon Davis.
“Given difficulties with holding in person hearings and the likely surge in cases arising from loss of employment, changes to terms, furlough and other consequences of Covid-19, it is important that employment tribunals are able to get on with delivering justice.”
Cases are often listed for hearing more than 12 months from when the request was first made, while more complex claims can take as much as two years to get a judgment.
The Law Society is also concerned that lengthy waiting times for cases to be heard will lead to delays in the emergence of the case law needed as employers and employees face up to a post Covid-19 pandemic working environment.
“At the moment, there is much uncertainty as to how Covid-19 related disputes will be decided, as we are applying established employment law principles to entirely new circumstances,” added Davis.
“The more cases that are heard, the more judgments that are handed down, the better everyone will understand how employment law applies to what is happening, and the quicker settlements can be reached.”
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