Over 20 organisations, including the Law Centres Network and several member Law Centres, have today called on the Lord Chancellor to allow people exposed to harassment or discrimination at work more time to make claims against their employers.
The call is for a temporary extension of the time allowed for making Employment Tribunal claims from 3 months to 6 months. It comes after restrictions in light of the Covid-19 pandemic have made it increasingly difficult for people affected to make such claims and evidence them.
The current time limit is one of the shortest for any kind of civil claim in the UK. As the joint letter to the Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, explains:
“Many law firms and not-for-profit advice agencies are furloughing staff, reducing services and limiting the number of new claims they take on. As the time limit for harassment and discrimination cases runs from what the Tribunal concludes is the last unlawful act, this puts individuals without the benefit of specialist legal advice at a particular disadvantage, as they may not be able to identify when their time will run out.
“Further problems arise from the fact that these kinds of claims are more likely to prompt internal grievance investigations than other types of claim and those resulting processes are being delayed significantly by the ongoing lockdown. Nonetheless, limitation periods run on, meaning people are currently forced to start the ACAS process and issue proceedings before internal investigations are completed."
The signatories include campaigning organisations and charities such as Liberty, Maternity Action, Working Families, Centre for Women's Justice, Rights of Women, Advice UK, Runnymede Trust, Disability Law Service, Farore Law, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) and Equally Ours.
Julie Bishop, Director of the Law Centres Network, said:
“Government must protect people’s work along with their rights at work. Workers observing social distancing must be confident that, while they play by the rules, they do not lose out to rogue employers who break the rules. The government must reassure all workers who face harassment or discrimination at work that they can still seek justice, even if it may take a little longer.”
Suzanne McKie QC, principal lawyer at Farore Law, said:
“This is such an important issue for so many people. I’ve heard from so many agencies and charities that Covid-19 is causing significant barriers for claimants who might wish to bring claims, but who are hampered by mental illness and by lack of access to advice. As someone who specialises in discrimination and harassment cases I am seeing this at first hand. This is a small ask that could make such a big difference to victims of harassment and discrimination.”