The Law Commission has today published a report on the jurisdiction of employment tribunals, and the areas where they share jurisdiction with the civil courts to hear employment & discrimination claims.

Law commissioner Nicholas Paines QC said:

‘Employment tribunals play an important role in resolving disputes and protecting the rights of workers. However, the system is not working as well as it should. The reforms we have recommended will bring real benefits for the courts and tribunals system and its users. The adjustments will improve employment tribunals’ ability to resolve employment disputes as effectively and justly as possible in one place.’

The main recommendations for reform are as follows:

  1. to have a single time limit for all employment tribunal claims of six months;
  2. in types of claim where the time limit for bringing the claim can at present be extended where it was “not reasonably practicable” to bring the complaint in time, employment tribunals should have discretion to extend the time limit where they consider it “just and equitable” to do so;
  3. Employment judges with experience of hearing discrimination claims should be deployed to sit in the county court to hear non-employment discrimination claims;
  4. Employment tribunals should have jurisdiction to decide claims of breach of contract brought by employees and counterclaims by employers while they are still employed and to hear claims in relation to alleged liability arising after employment has terminated. Currently, tribunals only have jurisdiction to hear contract claims that arise or are outstanding on the termination of employment;
  5. The current £25,000 limit on employment tribunals’ contractual jurisdiction in respect of claims by employees be increased to £100,000 and thereafter maintained at parity with the financial limit upon bringing contractual claims in the county court. This proposed reform would reduce the need to pursue claims in different courts;
  6. The same financial limit on employment tribunals’ contractual jurisdiction should apply to claims by employees and counterclaims by an employer;
  7. An informal specialist list should be established to deal with employment and discrimination-related claims and appeals (e.g. restraint of trade, confidential information, equal pay and industrial action injunctions) within the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court.
  8. Employment tribunals not to have the power to grant injunctions;
  9. The government should investigate the possibility of creating a fast track for enforcement which allows claimants to remain within the employment tribunal structure when seeking enforcement and extend the BEIS employment tribunal penalty scheme.

Although the Law Commission has made its recommendations, they may not be adopted, especially if primary legislation is required (e.g. changes to time limits). However, the Law Commission has said the reforms in its report are largely technical and some can be taken forward without the need for primary legislation. 

An interim response to its report should be provided by the government in 6 months and a full response within a year under a Protocol agreed between the Commission and the Government. Previously, more than two-thirds of its law reform recommendations have been implemented.