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Time limits for making a discrimination claim in the employment tribunal

This advice applies to Wales

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. If you’ve been discriminated against at work and you've not been able to sort things out with your employer, you can make a discrimination claim in the employment tribunal.

You need to make your claim within specific time limits, otherwise the tribunal won’t generally accept it.

Read this page to find out more about the time limits for making your discrimination claim in the employment tribunal.

What are the time limits for making your discrimination claim in the employment tribunal?

The normal time limit for making your discrimination claim in the employment tribunal is 3 months less one day from the date when the discrimination happened.

But before making your claim you must put in a request to Acas for early conciliation. This will affect the time limit for presenting your claim. During the conciliation process, the time limit is paused and extended.

Working out how the time limit applies to your case

It can be difficult to work out when the discrimination happened. Sometimes it may be just one incident - for example, if you're denied a promotion. But sometimes the discrimination may be behaviour which extends over time.

If your employer’s made a discriminatory decision, the time limit will generally start to run from when the decision was made and not when you were told about it.

If in doubt about how the time limit may affect your case, you should seek help from an experienced adviser - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

Discrimination which takes place over a period of time

If the discrimination takes place over a period of time, the time limit starts to run at the end of that period. The discrimination is said to be continuing.

It’s the employment tribunal which will decide if the discrimination is continuing and if your claim was brought in time. The tribunal will look at whether:

  • the incidents of discrimination you experienced are linked or connected to each other in some way
  • there’s evidence of an ongoing situation, or a continuing state of affairs, of discrimination at your workplace for which your employer is responsible
  • there’s a continuing relationship between you and your employer - for example, if your employment is still ongoing.

If the incidents are isolated or unconnected, the discrimination isn’t continuing and the time limit runs from each of the separate incidents.

Example

You’ve suffered racial harassment throughout your employment by several of your colleagues who continually make racist jokes around you. You’ve complained on many occasions but nothing has ever been done about it. You want to bring a discrimination claim against you employer.

In this situation, you may be able to say that the discrimination is continuing if you can show that all the incidents are linked to each other. The tribunal would look at whether there’s evidence of an ongoing situation by looking at whether the behaviour complained of is of a similar nature.

Discrimination where there are ongoing consequences

Sometimes the discrimination is a one-off incident which has ongoing consequences. In this case the time limit runs from the incident rather than the continuing consequences.

Example

Your employer re-grades your work resulting in a reduction in pay. You believe this is because you're Romanian and your employer thinks he can get away with paying you less. As a consequence you now receive £40 per week less pay.

In this situation, the time limit would start to run from the decision to reduce your pay. Although this decision still has ongoing effects as you are continuing to be paid less, the decision to re-grade your work is a one-off act of discrimination.

If the employer fails to do something

Sometimes discrimination happens because your employer doesn’t do something they should have done - for example, if they fail to make reasonable adjustments. In this case, the time limit starts to run when the employer makes the decision not to do it or, in some cases, after a reasonable period in which they would have been expected to comply with their duty. You may be able to bring a claim back in time by making a new request for your employer to do something.

Example

Your employer has refused to pay for you to have an orthopaedic chair to assist with your back pain. As a consequence, your back pain has got a lot worse and you are now off on long term sick.

In this situation, the time limit would start to run from the decision not to purchase the orthopaedic chair.

If you’re dismissed

If you’re dismissed the time limit starts to run from the date your employment is terminated - that is the date you leave - and not when you were given your notice.

What happens if you don’t make your claim within the time limit?

Time limits for bringing a claim in the employment tribunal are quite strictly enforced but the employment tribunal does have discretion to extend the time limits where it thinks it’s just and equitable to do so. This means it will only accept an out of time claim if it thinks it’s fair to you and your employer bearing in mind the following things:

  • the reasons and length of the delay
  • the effect of the delay on the evidence
  • the steps you took to get advice once you knew of the possibility of taking action.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at

Acas

Acas works with both employers and employees to solve workplace problems.

You can phone the Acas helpline on: 0300 123 1100 and speak to an adviser about your employment problems. The helpline is open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

You can find useful information about how to sort out work-place problems on the Acas website at

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