A recent tribunal decision has shown that the usual 3-month time limit for staff to bring discrimination claims against their employer doesn't always apply.

Equality Act 2010

This Act states that discrimination claims must be made within 3 months of the incident (or the most recent incident if there were several). However, it also gives the Employment Tribunal wide powers to extend this time limit if it's just and equitable to do so.

The case

Two music teachers believed they were subject to discriminatory treatment and sought to resolve their complaint through the school's internal grievance procedure. They made it clear in their grievance letters that they were advised that they each had a strong legal case to make against the school. They were unable to resolve the issue.

Both teachers then resigned and took the school to an Employment Tribunal for constructive dismissal and discrimination.

The teachers' earlier attempt to resolve the complaints meant that most of the discrimination claims were over a year old by the time they were brought to the tribunal.

Therefore, the tribunal first had to decide in a preliminary hearing whether the teachers were allowed to bring their discrimination claims.

The Employment Tribunal

The tribunal decided that it was just and equitable to extend the 3-month time limit.

The tribunal said that they encourage complainants to try and resolve disputes internally first, and decided that the teachers showed a genuine desire to do so.

Also, in raising their grievances with the school, the teachers presented all the facts of their allegations and why they considered their treatment to be discriminatory. That meant the school's ability to investigate the allegations was not significantly affected by the delay, because it had the opportunity to collect and preserve evidence when the grievances were raised.

The tribunal also pointed out that the school wouldn't be any worse off due to the delay, because the same factual allegations made in the discrimination claims would have to be heard in the teachers' constructive dismissal claims (which don't have a time limit).

The school then unsuccessfully appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

What this means for you

It's not a given that someone will get an extension to make a discrimination tribunal claim simply because they want to first pursue an internal grievance procedure.

However, you should keep in mind that tribunals have very wide powers to extend this time limit. You should keep documentation relating to employees for as long as possible so that you can defend any unexpectedly late claims.