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COVID surge risks employment tribunal backlog

Concern as Covid surge risks employment tribunal backlog

Employment disputes will take longer to resolve if the re-surgent coronavirus creates a tribunal backlog, a lawyer has warned. Employment tribunals were still trying to catch up – after almost two years of lockdowns and restrictions since Covid-19 first hit – and now faced further disruption because of the Omicron variant.

The employment lawyer is warning that bosses and employees who are in dispute could face a long wait for a ruling and resolution – on top of delays lasting a year or more already – if the new variant causes sickness among tribunal staff or leads to new restrictions on tribunals.

He is also expecting to see a rise in cases as employers and their staff dispute how to adapt to a hybrid way of working or working full time from home.

Chris Piggott, Partner at mfg Solicitors said: “Employment tribunals have been a concern for years. Even before the pandemic, we’ve seen a fall in the number of judges and staff combined with a surge in cases ever since tribunal fees were scrapped in 2017. Add to that the backlog of cases caused when everything had to shut down and move online in the first stage of the pandemic, and the workload is building up and up. Some cases are taking 12 months or longer to be heard.

“If Omicron causes the re-introduction of restrictions, we can expect a double hit on tribunals. Firstly, cases will take longer to process. Secondly, we will see a rise in demand as employers and employees find themselves in disagreement over matters such as flexible and hybrid working or the arrangements for working from home, furlough payments or holiday accrued during lockdown.”

Mr Piggott said employment tribunals were adapting by introducing remote hearings and more use of technology, but that it will take time for these to clear the backlog.

He added: “The most important thing for employers and employees alike is to try to resolve these matters amicably and avoid the need to wait for a tribunal. Mediation can make a huge difference. Both sides need to ensure they have received the right legal advice and understand the options available to them to try to come to a resolution that works for everyone.”

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