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Sexual harassment: out of time!?

25/07/2019

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United Kingdom

In this fourth and final blog in our series on the government's consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace, published on 11 July 2019, we focus on the government's proposal to extend time limits for bringing a claim under the Equality Act.

In this fourth and final blog in our series on the government's consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace, published on 11 July 2019, we focus on the government's proposal to extend time limits for bringing a claim under the Equality Act.

Despite the limited scope of the consultation, the government's proposals do not deal only with claims for sexual harassment, but on any claim under the Equality Act, including discrimination and victimisation claims and including claims brought by reference to any protected characteristic.

Currently, the time limit for bringing a claim is three months from the date of the act (or omission) complained of. The Tribunals have discretion to extend this time limit where it is "just and equitable" to do so. According to data gathered by the government in 2018, requests for extension of time are rare, but, when made, are granted in the overwhelming majority of cases.

The government's proposal is to extend this time limit, to six months or longer. The proposal has now been made in a number of places (including in the government's consultation on the use of confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements), and it appears likely to be implemented. While, at first glance, this change may not be welcome to employers, we suggest that it may in fact have some positive effects on the way that Tribunal litigation is managed. Currently, due to tight time limits, claims, for example against discriminatory dismissals, are frequently submitted before internal avenues of appeal are exhausted, and must then be amended, leading to additional work (and cost) in responding to claims. While parties are entitled to request a stay of proceedings to conclude internal process, this option is little used. Separately, it is to be hoped that allowing for longer periods for claims to be brought will also result in fewer requests for extensions of time, and a tougher judicial line on applications to grant extensions of time, hopefully reducing the need for time and cost to be expended on preliminary proceedings to deal with this jurisdiction point.

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Employment