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Extension of Employment Tribunal time limits

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If a former employee wants to make a complaint to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal they have a time limit of three months from the date of the termination of their employment in which to do so. Most employers will, therefore, breathe a sigh of relief if this time limit expires without a claim being received by the Tribunal.

However, the recent case of John Lewis Partnership v Charman is a timely reminder that the Employment Tribunal is able to extend the three month time limit where it considers that it was not “reasonably practicable” for the complaint to have been presented to the Tribunal in time.

In this particular case the employee’s three months would have expired on 12 June 2010. However, he was not aware of the time limits involved and did not have the outcome of the employers internal appeal, upholding the decision to dismiss, communicated to him until mid-July 2010. His complaint was presented to the Tribunal on 21 July 2010.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that it had not been reasonably practicable for the employee to have presented a complaint to the Tribunal before the conclusion of the appeal and that as he had presented his complaint within a reasonable period after that he should be allowed to pursue his claim.

This decision is a rare exception to the rules about time limits which seems to go against the strict approach to time limits that has been taken in the past. It is possible that the EAT’s approach may have been influenced by the fact that, having dismissed the employee on 13 March 2010, it then took a further 4 months for the appeal to be concluded. In light of this, employers should ensure that any internal disciplinary and appeal procedures are concluded without unreasonable delay, to reduce the risk of criticism from the Tribunal and the possibility that the three month time limit may be extended.

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