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Employment tribunals surge by 13% during COVID

Posted on 23rd November 2021

2020/21 saw over 117,000 employment tribunals in the UK, a 13% rise from the previous year, according to new research by Wright Hassall.

The study, titled Employment Tribunals: workplace disputes in the UK, found that the top bone of contention was unfair dismissal, with 23,904 tribunals during the year, presumably as a result of COVID-related redundancies.

Next was the Working Time Directive, with 20,867 workers taking their bosses to a tribunal over how much time they could legally be asked to work. This has been the no.1 cause of employment tribunals over the past 10 years, racking up over 450,000 complaints.

Top 10 most common tribunal complaints in 2020/21

1          Unfair dismissal: 23,904

2          Working Time Directive: 20,867

3          Unauthorised deductions (formerly Wages Act): 17,816

4          Age Discrimination: 15,336

5          Breach of contract: 14,836

6          Equal pay: 8,509

7          Disability discrimination: 7,430

8          Redundancy – failure to inform and consult: 7,072

9          Redundancy pay: 6,453

10        Sex discrimination: 5,172


One of the most shocking findings was that tribunals over the Part Time Workers’ Regulations shot up by 767% during the year as companies struggled to adjust to lockdowns and flexible working. Even more surprisingly, tribunals over age discrimination were up 530%, perhaps because older workers felt bosses were leaning on them to take early retirement.


Tribunal causes that increased in 2020/21

1          Part Time Workers’ Regulations: 767.08%

2          Age Discrimination: 530.07%

3          Others: 108.22%

4          Transfer of an undertaking – failure to inform and consult: 84.16%

5          Unfair dismissal: 10.71%

6          Public Interest Disclosure: 10.65%

7          Written pay statement: 10.46%

8          Race discrimination: 5.24%

9          Written statement of reasons for dismissal: 0.56%


Despite the rise in tribunals, the long-term picture is more positive. Since 2010/11, tribunal numbers are down 46%, yet 34% fewer cases are settled out of tribunal. This suggests that employers are more respectful of employee rights and that when a grievance does arise, they’re more confident that they’ve acted within the rules and therefore more willing to defend their actions in a tribunal.

This confidence might be misplaced, as employers are actually 7% more likely to be successful in tribunals, suggesting that the tribunal system is effective in protecting employee rights.

But when the figures for successful settlements in tribunal and out of tribunal are combined, employees are 21% less likely to succeed, meaning that the reduction in settlements has tipped the balance in favour of employers.