The employment tribunal backlog must be cleared before the anticipated avalanche of post-covid claims hits, the Law Society warned.
It said employment tribunals need increased resources to deliver justice swiftly but employers and employees are already facing long periods of uncertainty because of long waiting times for cases to be heard.
A spike in employment cases is expected in the coming days.
President of the employment tribunals for England and Wales judge Barry Clarke recently said there is likely to be an increase in redundancy-related dismissals as the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) is wound down.
The CJRS is due to close on 31 October 2020.
Cases are often listed for hearing more than 12 months from when the request was first made but complex claims can take up to two years before judgment is given.
Law Society president Simon Davis said if employment tribunals cannot hear cases in a short timeframe there will be many unsettled claims over the next two years.
He commented: “Given difficulties with holding in person hearings and the likely surge in cases arising from loss of employment, changes to terms, furlough and other consequences of covid-19, it is important that employment tribunals are able to get on with delivering justice.”
The Society also expressed concern that the situation could lead to “delays in the emergence of the case law” which it says will be needed as employers and employees “face up to a post covid-19 pandemic working environment”.
Davis said there is “much uncertainty as to how covid-19 related disputes will be decided, as we are applying established employment law principles to entirely new circumstances”.
The more cases that are heard, the more judgments that are handed down”, he added, “the better everyone will understand how employment law applies to what is happening, and the quicker settlements can be reached.”
Daniel Barnett, a barrister at Outer Temple Chambers specialising in employment cases, said: “Judges are working incredibly hard to deal with cases but there are just too many cases, not enough appropriate rooms and too few staff.”
He said he had two long cases with dismissals in 2019 listed for hearing in 2022.
“The system will”, he warned “end up rewarding those with confident memories over those with accurate memories.”
Barnett added that the cloud video platform (CVP) for online hearings is like any other electronic system – “it works well for most; less well for others; and everyone has to go at the pace of the slowest”.
Since employment tribunal fees were abolished in 2017, the number of claims has increased substantially but without the same increase in resources, the Law Society said.
Meanwhile, it was reported today in The Times that according to correspondence seen by the newspaper, government is planning to reintroduce employment tribunal fees for workers bringing a claim....