Employment discrimination claimants may have to wait until at least December 2021 for their hearings because of a lack of resources, research has shown.
According to specialist employment law firm GQ|Littler, the problem is likely to worsen with an anticipated increase in pandemic-related claims – despite new measures to deal with the problems.
Hearings in discrimination cases are not, for instance, being listed at London South employment tribunal until December 2021; while in Southampton hearings are currently being listed for August 2021, and in Bristol for April 2021.
The research demonstrates the mounting pressure on the courts and tribunals and the potential impact for litigating parties.
Meanwhile, telephone hold times at London Central employment tribunal were found to be as long as five hours for those calling to discuss the scheduling of hearings, because of high workloads and staff shortages.
GQ|Littler said new measures to alleviate the pressure on tribunals do not go far enough, with many tribunals continuing to deal with large backlogs of claims that have built up since tribunal fees were abolished in 2017.
These measure, which include allowing non-employment judges to take on cases and extending ACAS early conciliation periods, fail to address the scale of underfunding and the resulting lack of frontline judicial and support staff at employment tribunals, the firm said.
Government figures released at the end of September revealed 37,000 outstanding UK employment tribunal cases brought by individuals in April to June 2020, passing peak levels seen in 2009/10.
Further, almost a third fewer tribunal claims were disposed of in the same period compared to April to June 2019, a decline likely due to the impact of covid-19 on the tribunals.
Raoul Parekh, partner at GQ|Littler, said: “With delays stretching up to 14 months the employment tribunal system has almost ground to a halt.”
He said years of underfunding in the judicial system has created a huge backlog as employment tribunals have limited capacity to manage the case load – a problem worsened by covid, “with schedules being pushed even further back”.
Furthermore, the pandemic has “given rise to a whole host of new employment law issues”, he said.
“With a spike in tribunal cases widely anticipated, the problem is only likely to get worse before it gets better”, warned Parekh.
“The new measures proposed by the Government are welcomed by many in the legal profession. However, they only scratch the surface, addressing the consequences of the problem and not the cause – a lack of resources.
“Delays at tribunals can trigger a downward spiral – they often create more friction between employees and employers and in turn drag out claims even further.”