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Late claim for unfair dismissal

In RBS v Bevan, the EAT considered an appeal against an employment tribunal’s decision that it had not been reasonably practicable for the claimant to present his claim within the first 3 months from dismissal in circumstances where he did not hear of the failure of his internal appeal against dismissal until 5 hours before the expiry of the time limit.

The Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution Regulations) 2004 provide an extension of time by 3 months in circumstances where at the time when the initial 3 month period expires the claimant reasonably believes that an internal appeal is still in progress. Mr Bevan did not get the extension, because by the time the initial 3 months expired he was aware that his internal appeal had failed – even though only just. The question was therefore whether it had been reasonably practicable for him to present his claim in time. It was argued that it was – because there was nothing to prevent him from presenting his claim before he knew the result of the internal appeal, although he might prefer not to.

The EAT held that the employment tribunal had been entitled to find that it was not reasonably practicable for Mr Bevan to present his claim in time. Both the employment tribunal and the EAT may have been influenced by a suspicion (which emerges quite clearly without being stated) that the employer may have deliberately timed its announcement of the outcome of the appeal for the last day of the original period in the hope that it might induce Mr Bevan to miss the deadline.

Although the outcome is clearly just, it is difficult to reconcile it with the statutory provisions: rather, it appears to be an expression of the view that it ought to be permissible to extend time for an unfair dismissal claim on the grounds that it is ‘just and equitable’ in all the circumstances to do so. This is the basis on which time can be extended for discrimination claims; it is difficult to see any good reason for the tougher requirement in unfair dismissal cases to show that it was not ‘reasonably practicable’ to present the claim in time.

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