All you need to know about an employment tribunal

Issues at work can be extremely distressing and difficult to deal with. Our employment gives us an income, personal fulfilment and a degree of sociability. When something goes wrong at work the problems can sometimes feel intractable. When a problem develops it’s important to seek professional, impartial advice as quickly as possible. Problems in the workplace can, and all too frequently, do occur but it’s important to remain calm and think before you act.

While many disputes in the workplace can be resolved with discussion and compromise, some may reach an employment tribunal. While the prospect of attending an employment tribunal may be daunting, it’s important to remember that these are designed to help find an agreeable resolution.

Here we’ll take a look at what an employment tribunal is, how they work and what you can expect if you have to attend one.

What is an employment tribunal?

When an employment dispute arises and cannot be resolved without recourse to legal means, then it will usually be referred to an employment tribunal. They arbitrate in workplaces disputes and the kind of issues they deal with include redundancy, discrimination and dismissal. There are also a variety of other sorts of claims that can be brought.

When might an employment tribunal occur?

Employment tribunals will only occur if a dispute hasn’t been resolved satisfactorily and the claimant then seeks legal redress. Whether or not a claim can be made will depend on the details of the dispute and whether certain conditions can be met. One of these conditions is a time limit of three months less one day from when the event happened to make a claim to the tribunal.

Some of the common reasons which people make a claim for unfair dismissal

Include discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, race, age, religious belief or politics, or disability. They can also be brought for issues around breach of contract, working hours, unauthorised deductions from salary, written statements of terms and conditions and failure to properly consult in redundancy.

Professional legal help will offer impartial advice about the strength of your claim and how likely it is to succeed at an employment tribunal. Parties are encouraged to settle before the employment tribunal and even on the day, resolution without the need for the hearing can be reached via a Consent Order from the judge or a COT3 agreement with the assistance of ACAS.

What happens in an employment tribunal?

In most cases, employment tribunals will be held in large rooms rather than courtrooms. Tribunal hearings are usually open to the public unless a specific request has been made to hold them in private. This will only usually happen when the case is regarded as particularly sensitive, such as in instances of sexual harassment.

In complex cases, the tribunal panel will consist of three people. This will include a legally-qualified employment judge. The rest of the panel will be made up of two lay members without legal qualifications. One will come from an employer focused background, the other from an employee or trade union background. This kind of panel is sometimes called the ‘industrial jury’. More straightforward cases can be heard by an experienced employment judge sitting alone.

Open statements will be made, then the tribunal will invite the parties to call their respective witnesses to give their evidence. Each side will then be able to cross-examine the parties. Usually, the claimant will be the only person giving evidence in their claim. The employer may call other witnesses such as employees involved in the decision-making process, such as someone from HR or a line-manager.  If the claimant isn’t represented then they will question the employer’s witnesses themselves. The tribunal will also ask its own questions. Witness statements therefore need to be truthful as they will be questioned closely.

The tribunal will also pay close attention to any documentation. Closing statements by both parties summarising the significance of the evidence and the relevant cases relied upon, will be made. Tribunal judges tend to be strict in making sure that witnesses remain within their allotted time, so attention needs to be given to just how relevant any information is. At any time during the hearing the tribunal can adjourn. At the end of the hearing the panel will decide whether you have won the case. If so, they will then consider the level of compensation you should receive.

How long does an employment tribunal take?

The average length of time it takes from starting a claim to receiving a decision at an employment tribunal is 27 weeks. This can vary considerably depending on a number of different factors, such as the number of witnesses being called, the type of claim, the location of the tribunal and how busy that particular tribunal currently is. In some cases, it can even take as long as a year from start to finish.

What happens if you lose an employment tribunal?

Unlike in civil cases, employment tribunals rarely order the losing party to pay the other party’s costs. Both parties will generally cover their own costs. If an employee loses a tribunal they will usually only be expected to pay costs if they are deemed to have acted “vexatiously, abusively, disruptively or otherwise unreasonably,” or if the claim they brought is ‘misconceived’.

If you suspect you may be at risk of having to pay your employer’s costs you should seek legal advice immediately.

Either can appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal if they suspect that a mistake was made. An appeal can only be made on a clear point of law, not just because you’re unhappy with the decision. If you want to appeal, you will need to obtain the full written reasons for the Tribunal’s Judgement. You must ask for these to be sent to you within 14 days of the judgement being received. Any appeal needs to be submitted within 42 days of the written reasons for judgement being dispatched.

How do I take my employer to a tribunal?

In most cases, you will be required to contact the conciliation service, ACAS, to start early conciliation before you’re able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. If you have notified ACAS, and conciliation has failed or you don’t wish to take part in it, then you may be able to make a claim.

You will need to meet certain conditions and it’s helpful to have some idea about the strength of your claim before moving towards an employment tribunal. Your legal advisor will decide whether or not you have a possible claim, whether you meet the conditions and the strength of your evidence. They will then assess the strength of your claim, as well as the evidence your employer may provide. This can take some time for them to properly weigh up the strength of your claim and how likely it is to succeed.

If a decision has been made to proceed you will then submit an ET1 Form which can be filled in online. Your legal advisor can help you fill in the form. Particular attention needs to be given to the statement about your claim. This will include a sequence of events as they happened and the key factors in your claim.

Do you have to pay for an employment tribunal?

You don’t have to pay to make an Employment Tribunal Claim, although there is a small chance you may be held liable for your employer’s costs of going to court should you lose your claim.

How much can an employment tribunal award?

Limits are set on what a tribunal can award, particularly if you’re claiming for a relatively low sum such as unpaid notice pay or holiday pay. In discrimination claims, the amount awarded can be more substantial.

A tribunal can award a fixed sum for unfair dismissal as well as a compensatory payment for the financial loss you’ve suffered. Your legal advisor will be able to give you an estimated figure for any compensation you could receive should your claim be successful.

If you are involved in a dispute with your employer it’s important to receive professional legal advice as soon as possible. Before you begin an employment tribunal claim you should explore all possible options for conciliation and fully assess the strength of your claim. At Mark Reynolds Solicitors we are experienced at dealing with employment disputes. We can offer impartial professional advice and, if appropriate, provide legal support for your claim.

Call 0800 002 9577 or get in touch via our contact form.