Employment tribunals: time limits for making tribunal claims

Time limits in employment tribunal claims generally can be very strict and many an employee has come unstuck because they’ve failed to observe them. There are occasionally circumstances where the deadlines may be extended – as exemplified below – but these are exceptional and you should not assume that they may be extended in your particular circumstances.



There is a 3-month time limit for unfair dismissal claims  

This is very strictly enforced, and the only exception is whereby it was not reasonably practical’ to issue a claim within 3 months from the effective date of 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.


There is also a 3-month time limit for discrimination claims

The time runs from the last act of discrimination or the last of a series of acts of discrimination. That date could well be prior to the last day worked. 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 will need to consider the extent to which it’s fair to the parties in allowing a claim to be brought outside the usual time limits. So it is slightly less strict for discrimination claims, but you still need to make sure you act within 3 months.


Notice of dismissal in tribunal claims generally takes effect from the day after the notice is given

Whether your notice is given orally or in writing, in person or electronically –  it takes effect from the day after the notice is given, unless your contract says otherwise. Even if it is served out of office hours it will take effect from the following day.

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 and take steps to submit your tribunal claim form within the prescribed time limits.


Time limit in personal injury claims

Generally, personal injury claims have a time limit on them of 3 years from the date of injury or the date of knowledge of the injury. There are some exceptions to this, for example in sexual abuse cases, but they are rare.


Acas Early Conciliation

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 the parties to try and resolve the case before commencing tribunal proceedings.

The effect of completing an Acas EC Notification essentially stops the 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 the employee to lodge their claim. However, the rules are complicated and advice should be sought in every case. More information on the Acas Early Conciliation process can be found on the Acas website.


When does contractual notice take effect?

Contractual notice, whether given orally or in writing, takes effect from the day after the notice is given unless the contract says otherwise. Although the following example is an old case, the points being made about deadlines are just as valid today.

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.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal 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 whether it is given orally, in writing, in person or electronically. Even if it is served out of office hours it will take effect from the following day.

This case helps where the termination date is important, for example, where your employer wants to try to terminate employment before have the one year’s 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.

Top Tips

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    Claim deadlines are very strict
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    Normally 3 months less one day from the date of dismissal or discrimination
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    Issue a claim early not late

What to do if you are out of time…

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 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).

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 filling in the Settlement Agreement Calculator. Also, think about getting some representation and maybe have a look at our reviews to see how others in your situation were helped on their journey.

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