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John Vander Luit

Editor, Solicitors Journal

MP calls for employment tribunal claim limit to be extended to six months

MP calls for employment tribunal claim limit to be extended to six months


Give judges 'proper, simple guidance' one exceptional circumstances, says former justice minister

Former justice minister Mike Penning has called for the time limit to bring employment tribunal claims to be extended to six months.

Penning said there was a need for greater leniency around time barring employment tribunal claims in exceptional circumstances, which are currently limited to three months.

The conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead proposed a motion for change in parliament on Wednesday evening after one of his constituents ran out of time to bring a constructive dismissal claim on behalf of her deceased husband.

Appealing to the parliamentary under-secretary of state for business, energy, and industrial strategy Margot James, Penning said: “We should move from three months to six months so that people have time to mourn or to get well before they have to bring a claim.

“Then we should give the judges proper, simple guidance about what the exceptional circumstances would be if someone needed to appeal outside that time.”

Penning noted that the existence of different rules across different tribunals makes it difficult to define “exceptional circumstances”.

He asked: “What would happen if someone had had a nervous breakdown, had been sectioned, or had been in a road traffic accident and was not well enough to make a claim in time. Would the judge rule that those were exceptional circumstances, or would the person be time-barred?”

Maria Miller, the conservative MP for Basingstoke, supported Penning’s motion and queried the effects of the limitation on women who have been subject to discrimination at work.

She suggested that a review of the three-month period may give women who are pregnant or have young children a greater chance of access to justice.

James accepted “that there are situations in which the law itself is insufficient to guide the behaviour of barristers in their work” and agreed to meet with the Ministry of Justice to consider the case for extending time the three month time limit.

She also confirmed that the Women and Equalities Select Committee, is reviewing whether there is a need for stronger protection against redundancy for pregnant women and women returning from maternity leave.

Nicholas Le Riche, an employment partner at Bircham Dyson Bell: said: Coming hot off the heels of the withdrawal of tribunal fees, the prospect of employers facing an even greater number of claims through the extension of the ordinary three-month time limit won’t be welcome. 

"In most cases, the existing time limit works well as it helps to focus employees’ minds on whether they want to bring a claim while providing employers with some certainty about whether they will face legal action, and has, in effect, already been extended by up to two months since the introduction of the ACAS Early Conciliation process.

"There is in any event already the ability for tribunals to extend the ordinary time limit in situations where they consider it right and reasonable to do so although different tests apply to different types of claims. If the government did want to simplify this area and provide greater flexibility to tribunals to allow claims to be accepted outside the ordinary time limits, then it could look at applying the more generous 'just and equitable' test to all types of tribunal claims.”

Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, reporter