What are time limits in the employment tribunal?

One of the most common mistakes that employees make when bringing employment tribunal claims is presenting their case too late.

Time limits in employment law are strict, and if a claim is presented too late, the tribunal may decide that it does not have ‘jurisdiction’ and will reject the claim.

What is the time limit to bring a claim about my dismissal?

Employees have three months from their dismissal to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. This applies to ‘ordinary’ unfair dismissal claims, and also allegations that an employee was dismissed because of whistleblowing or exercising other employment rights.

So, if you are dismissed on 5 March 2021, you will have until 4 June 2021 to contact ACAS (and/or bring a claim).

In very limited circumstances, employees can argue that it was “not reasonably practicable” to bring a claim within the three month period, and the tribunal may allow the claim to proceed as long as it was brought in such further period as the tribunal considers reasonable. However, this is a very narrow exception, Most of the time it will be very difficult for an employee to show it wasn’t possible to bring a claim within the three month period. 

When does the three month period to bring an unfair dismissal claim begin?

The three month period to bring a claim for unfair dismissal begins on “the effective date of termination” (often called the EDT). This is the date on which the employment contract is ended, either by dismissal or the employee’s resignation.

If the employee is “given notice” of dismissal, the effective date of termination will be the date on which the notice expires.

If the employment contract is terminated without notice, the effective date of termination will be the date on which the termination takes effect.

In some circumstances, there may be an extension to this period if the employer should have given the minimum amount of notice they are required to by statute but didn’t. However, it is generally not a good idea to rely on this and it is sensible to get a claim to the employment tribunal in well ahead of time.

What is the time limit for bringing a discrimination or claim?

The ordinary time limit to bring a discrimination claim is usually three months (although it is sometimes six months for equal pay claims). So, in an ordinary case if a discriminatory act takes place on 5 March 2021, the claimant will have until 4 June 2021 to contact ACAS and/or bring a claim.

However, the time limit may be extended to include “such other period as the employment tribunal thinks just and equitable”.

When a tribunal considers whether a longer period than the ordinary three months might be “just and equitable” they will look at a number of factors. One of the most important is why the claim wasn’t brought within the initial three months. Another is what prejudice does any delay cause to the employer. So, if there is a good reason for a discrimination claim to have been presented after three months, and no prejudice to the employer, the claim might well still be allowed to go ahead.

But if there is no good reason, the claim is very late, and the lateness makes it harder for the employer to gather relevant evidence etc, then it is less likely that the claim will be allowed to continue. 

When does the three month period to bring discrimination claim begin?

The three month period to bring a discrimination claim begins “with the date of the act to which the complaint relate”, ie the date on which the discrimination alleged took place.

Where the discrimination is a failure to act, then the period begins on the date that “the person in question decided on it”. So, if the allegation is that a failure to promote a woman was because of her sex, the three month period will start on the date the employer decided not to promote her.

Where the discrimination alleged is a number of connected acts, then a tribunal might decide that it counts as “conduct extending over a period”. If that is the case, then the three months to bring an employment tribunal claim will start “at the end of the period”.

ACAS early conciliation

The requirement that individuals must start early conciliation before presenting an employment tribunal claim was introduced in 2014. When ACAS receive an individual’s early conciliation notification, the clock is stopped for the purposes of most of the above time limits until the deemed date of receipt of the ACAS early conciliation certificate. However, if an individual doesn’t contact ACAS until after the time limits have expired, it may already be too late to bring a claim.

Note that ACAS early conciliation is normally mandatory. An employment tribunal claim form that does not have an ACAS early conciliation certificate number on will be invalid.

Other time limits

Where an individual wants to bring a claim in the High Court or County Court, the time limits are set by the Limitation Act 1980. Generally, for breach of contract claims the time limit is 6 years, and for personal injury claims.

There are a variety of different rules for bringing claims in the employment tribunal relating to unlawful deduction of wages, TUPE transfers and detriments or unlawful treatment. It is important to act quickly, check the relevant time limit and get legal advice.

The above rules are complicated and small mistakes may lead to a good claim being rejected by the tribunal. We recommend that you seek legal advice as soon as possible in order to ensure that your claim is presented properly and promptly to an employment tribunal.

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Mark Sellek
Solicitor View Mark's Profile

London - 0207 458 4633

Liverpool - 0151 541 7766