New figures show a sharp rise in multiple cases brought to employment tribunals coupled with an increase in disputes centred on working time and age discrimination.
In October to December 2020, single claims increased by 25% compared with the same period in 2019, but there was an 82% rise in multiple cases with 29,000 claims being received.
According to the Ministry of Justice this was the result of high numbers of claims against single employers, with 1,000 multiple claim cases, up from 630 for the equivalent period in 2019. In addition there were 27 claims per multiple case in 2020 as opposed to 12 claims per multiple case in the equivalent previous period.
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The rising number of employment tribunal cases was the result of the increase in unemployment and altered working conditions brought on by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the MoJ said. It projected that an even steeper rise in cases would occur when furlough ended in September.
Employment tribunals concluded 14,000 claims during October to December 2020, a 24% increase on the same period in 2019. This was due to a 66% increase in multiple claim disposals (to 6,700).
The figures also showed that working time claims replaced unfair dismissal as the most common claim.
Laura Farnsworth, partner at Lewis Silkin, said the sharp rise in multiple cases “may be accounted for by the fact that many employers have been making changes to workers’ terms and conditions and conducting large-scale redundancy exercises”.
She said there was an unknown element to the figures that obstructed accurate analysis: “We don’t have an accurate picture of the types of claims which have increased the most because a high number of claims have yet to be reviewed and allocated to a claim type. In the meantime, they are coded ‘other’.
“However, the statistics do show a significant increase in claims of age discrimination. This may suggest two scenarios – either employers are targeting older workers when selecting for redundancy or, more likely, that claims are coming from younger workers who appear to have been most affected by Covid-related redundancies or furlough.
Farnsworth added: “There is an increase in outstanding claims due to the backlog caused by Covid restrictions; this may also be because more claimants are willing to proceed further with claims, including issuing data subject access requests, because of difficulty in finding new employment.”
This increase in backlog was causing waits of up to 46 weeks for a hearing, up from 41 weeks before the pandemic.
The average wait time between an employment tribunal receiving a claim and it being heard hit 323 days during the peak pandemic months of April-September 2020 – up from 284 days pre-Covid.
Employment law firm GQ|Littler said these delays were only likely to get worse as the pandemic had given rise to a greater number of employment disputes – triggered by redundancies, cost cutting and health and safety issues.
Raoul Parekh, partner at the firm, said: “Covid has taken its toll on the tribunals, who were already facing significant operating difficulties long before the pandemic. The crisis is a perfect storm of reduced capacity in the tribunal system – with some venues closed for Covid-related reasons for weeks on end – and increased volume of claims.”
“These delays mean some claims will have to wait until 2022 before they are heard in court. This places a huge burden on employees and businesses during this already disrupted time.”
“Unfortunately, this is just the start. A wave of redundancy claims is expect following the end of furlough, so the backlog will only get worse.”
“Additional support is being given to tribunals, including the opening recruitment of new judges and the extension of the consultation period between employers and employees to increase the chance of reaching an agreement. But without more resources the problem is not going to get better, with employers and employees paying the price.”
Story updated 15 March to include Raoul Parekh comments
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