Court of Appeal Gives Guidance on Time Limits in Employment Cases
25th June 2018Back to articles
Employment cases are subject to tight time limits, and delay in seeking legal advice can result in meritorious claims being dismissed without a hearing. However, in an important decision, the Court of Appeal has underlined the wide and unfettered discretion of Employment Tribunals (ETs) to extend time in deserving cases (Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board v Morgan).
The case concerned a psychiatric nurse who suffered from a depressive illness and had to take about 17 months off work prior to her dismissal.
Lengthy proceedings culminated in an ET's findings that she had suffered harassment at the hands of a human resources adviser and that her NHS employer had failed in its duty to make reasonable adjustments to cater for her admitted disability.
Although her claim had been lodged outside the three-month time limit specified by Section 123 of the Equality Act 2010, the ET found that it was just and equitable to extend time. The employer's appeal against the ET's decision was subsequently dismissed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
In rejecting the employer's challenge to the latter ruling, the Court emphasised that Parliament had granted ETs the widest possible discretion in deciding whether or not to waive the full rigour of the three-month time limit. The exercise of that discretion should only be disturbed in cases where an ET had erred in principle.
The employer bore some of the responsibility for the delay in launching proceedings, which was also in part explained by the woman's acute mental health difficulties. The employer had suffered relatively little prejudice and, in the circumstances, the ET was entitled to find that it would be unjust to dismiss a good claim on grounds of delay alone.
The woman's case had already been the subject of two ET and two EAT hearings, and the proceedings had stretched over almost six years. A third ET hearing would be required to assess the amount of her compensation, but the Court urged both sides to adopt a sense of reality in achieving a final resolution of the matter.