Mr Bone resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal. His claim was accepted by the tribunal and he was informed a copy had been sent to Fabcon and Acas. Fabcon did not receive it and, as a result, submitted a response form outside the tribunal time limit for defending the claim. Bone’s lawyers applied for Fabcon’s late response to be disregarded and for a decision to be given in favour of Bone, known as a ‘default judgment’. The tribunal chairman ruled that Fabcon’s time limit for defending Bone’s claim did not start to run until it had received the re-sent papers. Its response was, therefore, entered in time.Bone appealed.
As well as imposing obligations on tribunals to inform respondents of how and when to respond to a claim, the rules contain strict time limits for bringing and responding to claims. In the latter case, this is up to 28 days from the date the respondent ‘was sent a copy’ of the claim. Bone argued that, since the papers were posted by the tribunal, time began to run regardless of whether the company received them. The chairman disagreed, finding the rule must reasonably mean 28 days from the date the respondent actually receives the claim form.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) allowed Bone’s appeal. By posting the papers, the tribunal had complied with its duties. When Fabcon failed to respond within 28 days, the rules automatically prevented the company from taking part in the proceedings, even if the papers never reached it.
Respondents need to be on the ball in light of this case. Following Fabcon’s failure to enter a response in time, the tribunal could have entered a default judgment. Had it done so, Fabcon would still have had a right to challenge that judgment. Since this did not happen and the 28-day period expired before a response was entered, Fabcon’s only course was to apply for a review hearing and to ask the tribunal to extend the time for submitting a response.