Employment tribunals: time limits for making tribunal claims
If you are thinking of making an employment tribunal claim because you've been badly treated at work, you also need to consider whether you have got time to submit your claim. This is because the tribunals impose strict limits on the time that can elapse between the event(s) you want to claim for and the time when you actually submit a claim for tribunal judgement.
This guide briefly outlines the main time constraints for different kinds of claims and offers guidance on how to work around those constraints.
Why are time limits for tribunal claims so important?
The tribunals have imposed time limits for making employment tribunal claims which are very strict: many an employee has come unstuck and not been able to make a claim, simply because they’ve failed to observe the deadlines.
Almost all claims require you to start proceedings by commencing Acas Pre-Claim Conciliation three months, less one day, from the date of the act about which you wish to complain.
These time limits are very strictly enforced, and the only circumstance where they may be extended is when it was not ‘reasonably practical’ to issue a claim within that time limit, following the effective date of your employment termination (normally the last day worked).
Case law has interpreted the ‘reasonably practical’ test very narrowly and found that even if the employee was ill or in hospital, they could have issued a claim within the timescale.
So you should not under any circumstances assume that the time limits may be extended in your particular circumstances.
Time limits for different kinds of claim
Unfair dismissal claims
There is a 3 months less one-day time limit for unfair dismissal claims.
So, if you were unfairly dismissed on 1 September, then you must commence Pre-Claim Conciliation by midnight on 30 November.
There is also a 3 months less one-day time limit for discrimination claims. The time runs from the last act of discrimination or the last of a series of acts of discrimination.
So, if you were discriminated against at work on 14th March, you must commence Pre-Claim Conciliation by 13th June, whether you are still employed or not.
The tribunal has the discretion to extend this time limit where it is ‘just and equitable’ to do so.
This might be, for example, because there was a grievance process ongoing.
Generally, the tribunal has to consider the extent to which it’s fair to the parties in allowing a claim to be brought outside the usual time limits.
It is slightly less strict for discrimination claims, but you should nevertheless act within the 3 months less one-day time limit.
Personal injury claims
A personal injury claim can be made in either of two main ways:
- where you have been discriminated against and have also suffered a personal injury, or
- as a claim for personal injury and nothing else.
Personal injury as part of a discrimination claim
Where you’ve been subject to discrimination and as a result have also suffered personal injury in the form of psychological injury, then you may make a claim in an employment tribunal for personal injury alongside a claim for discrimination.
Because the claim is being made in a tribunal, the time limits for the personal injury claim would be the same as for the discrimination claim: 3 months less one day. (See our guide on discrimination compensation for further details.)
Personal injury as a claim on its own
Otherwise, personal injury claims (whether physical or psychological) would be dealt with by a civil court (eg County Court) rather than by an employment tribunal.
In those circumstances, such injuries have a time limit of 3 years from the date of injury or the date from which you first become aware that you have sustained an injury.
There are some exceptions to this, for example in sexual abuse cases, but they are rare.
Why does your notice of dismissal date matter in tribunal cases?
The effective date of your notice of dismissal really matters in tribunal cases, because it can make the difference between being permitted to submit a claim and not being allowed to submit one.
Whether your notice of dismissal from your employment is given to you orally or in writing, in person or electronically – it generally takes effect from the day after the notice is given, unless your contract says otherwise.
Although the following example is an old case, it still gives you a good idea of what can happen if the effective date of your dismissal notice is not clear:
In the case of Dr T Wang v University of Keele, Dr Wang was sent an email at 4.40 pm on 3 November 2008 attaching a letter dismissing him with three months’ notice.
On 2 May 2009, Dr Wang submitted a Tribunal claim in response to his dismissal.
However, he lost his case as the Judge believed his claim was made outside the statutory time limit of 3 months from the date of termination.
The Judge stated that his notice took effect from the date he received and opened the notice email, not the day after he was served.
Dr Wang appealed against this finding at the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
They ruled that, unless there is a provision in an employee’s contract that notice is to take immediate effect from the date it is served, notice will take effect from the following day.
This applies to any notice of dismissal, irrespective of how and what time of day it’s given. Even if it is served out of office hours it will take effect from the following day.
This case helps show why the termination date is important, for example, where your employer wants to try to terminate your employment before you have the two years’ service required to bring an ordinary unfair dismissal claim.
The case also helps you to calculate when to submit a tribunal claim. In Dr Wang’s case, the decision meant his claim was in time.
So if you have resigned or been dismissed and you are negotiating a settlement agreement, but time is slipping away, make sure that you take action to contact Acas (see below).
Also take steps to submit your tribunal claim form within the prescribed time limits.
Acas Early Conciliation and time limits
For most tribunal claims it is necessary to complete an Acas Early Conciliation Notification form before commencing tribunal proceedings.
The idea behind Early Conciliation (EC) is to try and encourage both parties (employee and employer) to resolve the case before you submit a tribunal claim form and before you then formally commence tribunal proceedings.
The effect of completing an Acas EC Notification form essentially stops the time limit clock for bringing the proceedings and once the EC process has ended the time limit clock will restart.
Generally, the impact of the EC will give you, as the claimant, time to lodge your claim.
However, the rules are complicated and you should seek expert advice about this. More information on the Acas Early Conciliation process can be found in our guide here.
Claim deadlines are very strict so ensure you observe them
They are normally 3 months less one day from the date of dismissal or discrimination
Within that time limit, issue your claim early on and don’t leave it until the last minute.
What can you do if you’re out of time for a tribunal claim?
If you’ve missed the time limits in an employment tribunal claim you should seek advice without delay.
If it is too late to bring a claim in the tribunal then, depending on the type of claim, you may be able to bring a claim in the civil courts for a breach of contract, harassment or personal injury.
It is mainly just unfair dismissal and discrimination claims which you can only bring in the employment tribunals (rather than the civil courts) and which have such strict time limits.
In general, however, if you are out of time to claim then you are probably going to find it difficult to negotiate a decent exit package because your employer will be aware of the uphill struggle which you would face in court.
You might want to get a rough idea of the value of your case by trying our Calculator.
Also, think about getting some legal representation. Monaco Solicitors work only in employment law and only represent employees.
We have a wealth of experience helping people resolve their disputes with their employers, both by way of out-of-court settlements and by means of employment tribunals.
Have a look at our reviews to see how others in your situation were helped on their journey.
Contact us to find out more about the kinds of help we can offer you with your employment case:
- Via this website link
- By phone on 020 7717 5259
- By email: firstname.lastname@example.org