Due to the constraints of coronavirus, claimants at employment tribunals currently face a nine-month wait before their claims are heard in court, meaning employers and employees face a long period of uncertainty and disruption before finding out the outcome of a claim, according to the latest reports from law firm GQ|Littler.
The average wait time between an employment tribunal receiving a claim and when that claim is heard reached 284 days this year, up 20% on the 237 day wait time last year, with GQ|Littler stating that the increase in wait time is exacerbating problems for employers who face uncertainty for months over the outcome of a claim.
By March 31, 2020, the backlog of single claims at employment tribunals reached a total of 31,693 – up 19% from 26,664 on 31 March, 2019, and the highest level since 2010 whilst GQ|Littler said that the wait time between employment tribunals receiving a claim and that claim being heard has increased 44% over the last five years, up from 197 days in 2015/16.
“Tribunals were already in trouble due to a lack of resources. The shock caused by coronavirus means we are now at tipping point,” said Raoul Parekh, Partner at GQ|Littler. “The lack of resources at tribunals and the huge backlog has resulted in some recent claims not being listed for a hearing until March 2022, 21 months away.”
One of the key reasons for the delay is a lack of staff to handle the cases; in the last six months, employment tribunals have recruited nearly 70 fee-paid judges and 300 support staff, but from recruitment drives that started two years ago. More staff are still needed, including staff to help with the transition towards more virtual hearings.
Coronavirus has also disrupted planned upgrades to employment tribunals that were designed to improve efficiency and help clear the backlog of claims. For example, the roll out of a new case management system.
Parekh added: “A lack of resources at tribunals is not only leading to long delays but also administrative mistakes. Last minute cancellations of hearings and a lack of information about when evidence needs to be submitted before a hearing are becoming the norm. The delays are bad for employees and bad for businesses: without effective enforcement of employment rights, employers who don’t play by the rules are getting a free pass.”