Covid had many impacts on our businesses, but I fear that more is just sat waiting to hit. The area that I feel is most at boiling point is that of employment tribunals.


When Covid hit, so many business owners had to take drastic and unprecedented action to simply survive. Furlough was a significant intervention from the UK Government, but for some this started too late, and ended too soon.

Many thousands of employees found themselves either out of a job, or that the job changed, be that hours worked, location and many other factors.

Many employees were left wondering how to respond and sought advice in relation to a claim via the Tribunal Service. But we mustn’t forget that this service, just like every other public service in the UK, was also affected by the pandemic and so rather than witness an immediate surge in cases, we saw an increase in the backlog of cases which understandably made many claimants cease, or just not start, their claim process.

There were more than 475,000 cases outstanding at the end of 2022 and anyone involved in an employment tribunal currently faces an average wait of around a year for their case to be heard. The latest available data from the Ministry of Justice (Oct 23) suggests around a 49-week wait just for the preliminary hearing. But this has been falling over the last 2 years and continues to fall, with a number of legal observers and industry commentators believing this may lead to an increase in claims again.

I know personally of a recent case where the preliminary hearing was within 6 weeks of the claim being received.


So, is there a Tribunal Tsunami awaiting us?

The latest available statistics show that between April and June 2023 the number of cases rose by just 8% against the same period in 2021. 8% does not seem like a big number, but for a service that is traditionally flatline, it was significant.

What was more significant, was that the number of cases citing “Remote Working” as the primary issue, rose by 50%!

In the legal case Follows v Nationwide Building Society, an employee was awarded almost £350,000 in compensation after successfully claiming unfair dismissal. The tribunal’s ruling stated that dismissing an employee because she refused to work from the office, amounted to unfair dismissal and indirect disability discrimination by association, because the employee was the primary care giver for her disabled mother.

This decision highlights the potential pitfalls of requiring employees to return to the office and serves as a stark reminder for employers to exercise caution when imposing mandates for employees to return to the office.

The world of work has changed, and I doubt will ever return to the 5-day commute to the office that I spent most of my career taking as the normal. Technology that maybe was rushed into play over the pandemic period, has now become mainstream and an everyday tool for many.

As you and your business adapt to the “New Normal” take the time to review all your policies and processes and specifically, make sure that you have fully understood your contractual responsibilities, and liabilities, to your team.

The world of the Employment Tribunal can be a scary, confusing and costly place for everyone concerned.

In a recent episode of the MAP Room podcast we took time to hear from Louise Carr, an employment lawyer who regularly advocates in tribunals, to learn why small businesses are at a greater risk of losing a tribunal case brought against them.


You can access the episode here

Stuart Brown