Changes to the Employment Tribunal system as a result of COVID-19 pandemic
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a backlog of Employment Tribunal cases and delays due to the social distancing measures in place, the Employment Tribunal has had to make some important changes to adapt its approach in order to attempt to relieve the pressure on the system, keep cases progressing as much as possible and avoid delays.
The Employment Tribunal system has strived to continue operating in line with the overriding objective that underpins the system. This objective is to deal with cases fairly and justly, which includes:
- Ensuring parties are on equal footing;
- Dealing with cases proportionately to the issues;
- Avoiding unnecessary formality and seeking flexibility in the proceedings;
- Avoiding delay where possible; and
- Saving expense.
One of the significant adaptations to continue to meet the objective was carrying out remote hearings (via telephone or video conferencing). Generally the hearings listed for video conferencing are for less lengthy/complex matters, such as case management or hearings dealing with preliminary issues, however full hearings have also been heard using this method. The Employment Appeal Tribunal is also using video conferencing for hearings in order to progress matters.
Having been personally involved in hearings using video conferencing, it was in fact a very smooth process and the hearings were very successful, with good feedback from all parties involved.
Further changes introduced
- Despite the effort to adapt, there is still a serious backlog of cases. On 8 October 2020, changes were introduced to the Employment Procedure Rules, which allow further flexibility and attempt to reduce delays. This includes:
- non-employment judges sitting as employment judges;
- legal officers (not legally qualified) carrying out some of the tasks of employment judges i.e. dealing with routine applications, case management compliance and identifying whether claims have any substantive defects. Please note that an application can be made within 14 days to have a decision by a legal officer reconsidered by an employment judge;
- withdrawn then dismissed claims will no longer be entered onto the public register; and
- hearings can be listed before the response is received.
Important change to ACAS Early Conciliation – 1 December 2020
ACAS Early Conciliation is a mandatory process to initiate before lodging a tribunal claim. At present, this compulsory period lasts for one month. This can be extended by a further 2 weeks if both parties agree and there is a reasonable prospect of a settlement being reached. If conciliation is unsuccessful, a certificate is issued and a claim can then be lodged.
From 1 December 2020, the compulsory period is being increased to 6 weeks, with no scope for an extension. This provides the parties the maximum opportunity to reach a settlement from the outset.
If you have any queries or wish to discuss any of these changes, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced Employment Lawyers on 01202 525333 for further advice.