Recommendations to improve how employment law disputes are decided have been published today [29 April 2020] by the Law Commission.
The independent body, set up to reform the law, has reviewed the jurisdiction of employment tribunals, and the areas where they share jurisdiction with the civil courts to hear employment and discrimination claims. It found a range of issues including unsatisfactory gaps in employment tribunals’ powers which can mean that claimants have to bring two sets of proceedings because the tribunal cannot deal with all their claims.
To improve how employment tribunals operate, the Commission has made a number of recommendations including:
- Increasing the powers of employment tribunals so that they can decide claims of breach of contract brought by employees and workers while they are still employed. Currently, the employee has to have left the employer before bringing a claim
- Increasing the time limit for bringing all types of employment tribunal claims to six months (currently it is 3 months for some types of claim). Tribunals would have the discretion to extend time limits where they consider it “just and equitable” to do so
- Giving employment tribunals the power to give damages in breach of contract claims of up to £100,000 (currently the limit is £25,000). This should reduce the need to pursue claims in two different courts
- Allowing tribunals to hear complaints by employees that they are working hours in excess of the maximum working time limits
- Improvements to the procedures for enforcing employment tribunals’ awards to ensure employees receive the compensation in a timely fashion
- Employment judges with experience of hearing discrimination claims to be deployed to sit in the county court to hear discrimination cases outside the employment field.
These recommendations, if implemented, would enhance the protections that employees and workers receive from the employment tribunals against discriminatory and unlawful practices.
Employment tribunals were created in 1964; their jurisdiction has been greatly extended since then and they now deal with a wide variety of claims brought by employees and workers in areas such as unfair dismissal and discrimination in the workplace. They work in a different way from the civil courts, with a less formal procedure. Parties’ representatives do not need to be lawyers, tribunals do not award costs to the winning party and the formal rules of evidence do not apply. Employment tribunal judges are experts in employment law and have developed efficient ways of managing their cases, including discrimination claims arising in the employment context.
But employment tribunals only have the jurisdiction that is given them by statute and there are some unsatisfactory gaps in their powers; sometimes claimants have to bring two sets of proceedings because the tribunal cannot deal with all their claims. The Law Commission’s recommendations would see employment tribunals continue to have exclusive jurisdiction over many types of claims whilst also getting increased powers, as outlined above.
Law Commissioner Nicholas Paines QC said:
“Employment tribunals play an important role in resolving disputes and protecting the rights of workers, however the system is not working as well as it should.
“The reforms that we have recommended will bring real benefits for the courts and tribunals system and its users. The adjustments will improve employment tribunals’ ability to resolve employment disputes as effectively and justly as possible in one place.”