What are time limits?

The time limit for claims to the employment tribunal is very short.  Generally speaking, you have three months less one day to take formal action from the date of termination of employment or the last act of discriminatory conduct. However, claims for redundancy payments and equal pay claims have six months.

Tribunal rules about time limits are not absolute, but the discretion varies depending on the type of claim.

For example, there is very limited discretion in an unfair dismissal claim.  You must take formal action (usually by notifying ACAS or start a tribunal process) within three months less one day of the effective date of termination, unless it was not reasonably practicable.  Reasonably, practicability is very narrowly defined, and tribunals rarely extend time to these types of claims.  For example, a computer malfunction on the eve of the limitation date was insufficient to extend time in an unfair dismissal claim.

The time limits for discrimination claims require action from act of discrimination or the last in a series of acts of discriminatory treatment.  The acts of discrimination must be of a similar characteristic, for example, discriminatory name-calling.  If they are too different, the Tribunal may view the earlier acts are outside the time limits.

Extended time options

Unlike unfair dismissal claims, the Tribunal can extend time if they consider it is just and equitable.  They will consider:

  1. the reason for the delay; and
  2. weigh up the balance of prejudice to the parties.

For example, bringing up historical examples of discrimination may be unfair if key witnesses have long since left employment. In contrast, an employer who has delayed a grievance investigation for several months will struggle to argue that they are disadvantaged by any delay in starting a tribunal process.

Formal action generally means starting the Early Conciliation Process with ACAS (the Arbitration and Conciliation Service).

ACAS help each side to resolve disputes; this is a free service. Most claims require the employee to start the ACAS Early Conciliation (EC) before the Tribunal has jurisdiction to hear the claim. If you think that your case is exempt, seek advice to make sure.

During the Early Conciliation process (which is generally six weeks), the time limit clock stops allowing the parties to resolve matters before issuing tribunal proceedings. After the end of the ACAS Early Conciliation Process, generally, proceedings must be commenced within a calendar month of the ACAS EC certificate is issued.  ACAS can continue to assist  after claims have started.

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Time limits are tricky and it is crucial to seek advice without delay and be mindful of the dates of key events so that you take action within the time allowed by the Tribunal.

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