Workers who make claims to employment tribunals are being forced to wait 60% longer than they were in 2010, according to new data from the Ministry of Justice.
The average claimant now waits 49 weeks between receiving their employment tribunal claim and their first hearing, 18 weeks higher than in 2010.
There were more than 50,500 open cases in the UK’s employment tribunal system in December 2022.
There is a shortage of resources and difficulties recruiting staff for tribunal services, according to Liz Sebag-Montefiore, co-founder of talent management consultancy 10Eighty.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Restricted funding means employment tribunals are finding it difficult to recruit tribunal judges and administrative support staff, to deal with the backlog of cases. This needs a robust effort to ensure the service has the experts it needs to function at optimum capacity.”
Read more: Does the employment tribunal backlog call for a reboot?
Emma Burroughs, associate at law firm Collyer Bristow, said the high number of cases could be down to employment tribunal claims being free.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “A contributory factor to tribunal waiting times is likely to be a lack of funding. In the employment tribunal it’s free to issue a claim.
“By way of comparison, in most other courts a prescribed fee is payable and can be as much as £10,000 depending on the type and value of the claim.”
Burroughs said the delays are making more employees take settlements.
She said: “The associated stress and the legal costs are not recoverable even if the case is won. This means that access to justice can be expensive and challenging.
“For that reason, it may be more pragmatic for the individual to cut a deal, where possible, and move onto a new job, mitigating their loss of earnings and looking forward rather than backwards.”
Sebag-Montefiore added that delays can impact the quality of the court proceedings.
She said: “Being involved in an employment claim is extremely stressful for employees and employers who are in a situation where they are worried about job, finances or their reputation; this is exacerbated by a prolonged period of uncertainty.
“Delays on this scale are not sustainable, they are challenging for all parties, and it’s not unusual for complainants to withdraw, key witnesses to move to other roles or countries, and memories can fade.”
Read more: How HR can survive the tribunal jungle
More mediations and virtual hearings need to take place as well as using non-employment judges, added Sebag-Montefiore.
She said: “It might be possible to introduce a new step in the process to give both parties a chance to settle before a case is heard in court, although mediation will only work in some cases.
“Allowing greater use of virtual hearings might enable a step forward.
“Also, the deployment of a greater range of judicial expertise including non-employment judges in the tribunal system would also allow the service to hear more cases.”