The Ministry of Justice has published its quarterly update on employment tribunal statistics revealing an 18% increase in single claims during lockdown.
Lawyers believe the number of cases will continue to increase over the next year as the impact of the coronavirus epidemic takes hold on UK businesses.
Employment tribunal claims involving individuals in the first quarter of 2020/21 (April to June 2020) increased by 18%, compared to the same period last year, to 10,000. Multiple claims, on the other hand, decreased by 43%.
It means the outstanding tribunal caseload has risen by 31% to a record 37,000 cases, higher than the previous peak in Q2 2009/10.
The MoJ said the rise was most likely due to the rise in unemployment and changes to working conditions caused by Covid-19.
Glenn Hayes, employment partner at Irwin Mitchell, said: “These figures mark a significant year-on-year rise but they don’t surprise me. I think the numbers will go up further over the next 12 months as the current furlough scheme comes to an end.
“These are difficult times for businesses but some in their haste to save costs are making basic errors in their redundancy programmes such as not going through a fair procedure even in genuine cases. Others are getting rid of older staff which is directly discriminatory.”
He added: “While it might seem like the ‘wild west’ to those in the middle of this, Covid-19 hasn’t changed employment law overnight and not following correct redundancy procedures or selecting people because of their age is more likely to result in employment claims which will distract them from the important job of keeping their businesses going.
“Companies should be aware that they are at risk of tribunal claims if they attempt to use redundancies as a cloak for breaching employment rights.”
Sarah Evans, employment lawyer at Constantine Law commented: “As the global economy teeters on the brink of recession, the second wave of Covid is here, and unemployment figures rise, paid access to justice is likely to be further squeezed. Cases in the tribunal are taking longer and longer to get to final hearing and the impetus for settlement often lost because there is no urgency to deal with potential findings of liability, negative or positive, if it suits the parties to effectively sit it out for a while.”
Last month, the government announced a raft of measures to help clear the tribunal backlog. From 8 October employment judges will be able to hold more virtual hearings, legal officers will be allowed to carry out administrative tasks that currently only employment judges can carry out, and judges from other areas of the judiciary will be deployed to the employment tribunal.
But Evans felt the measures were insufficient to deal with the increasing backlog: “Since the abolition of fees, the number of claims issued has risen steadily, and this will continue to be the case simply because of the volume of dismissals, and because of businesses in real trouble trying to survive and reducing jobs. Judges and staff are no doubt doing their all to address backlogs – in Manchester we regularly receive correspondence/judgments/directions issued by judges clearly working over weekends for example. But this will not be enough. ”
“Apart from the effect of Covid, our employment tribunal system is also still recovering somewhat from the disastrous effect of the introduction of tribunal fees, which saw swathes of resources cut, but not yet replaced.”