An Employment Tribunal deals with legal disputes to do with work - if you make a claim, there are procedures that need to be followed and you should understand what happens when your claim is heard.
ETs hear cases involving employment disputes. They're less formal than some other courts, but you give evidence on oath, and if you lie you can be convicted of perjury.
The majority of cases are usually heard by a panel of three people – a legally qualified employment judge, and two 'lay members'. The lay members use their employment experience in judging the facts. However, for certain claims, such as for unfair dismissal, the employment judge sits on their own.
It's always best to try to sort out problems through discussion, and before you go to a tribunal, you should get specialist advice, particularly about your chance of success. You must:
Before starting a claim in an Employment Tribunal, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) will offer you the use of their 'Early Conciliation' service. This is a free dispute resolution service that helps resolve workplace disputes. If you want to start an ET claim, you must first send Acas certain 'prescribed information' about your dispute. You can use a form to do this, which is available from Acas.
Acas will then contact you to confirm whether you want to use the scheme to try to resolve the dispute. If so, Acas will have a month to try to resolve it. In the meantime, the time limits for starting an Employment Tribunal claim (see below) will be 'frozen'.
If a settlement cannot be reached, Acas will give you an Early Conciliation certificate.
This certificate will show that Acas believes a settlement will not be possible. Acas will also give you this certificate if either you or your employer refuses Early Conciliation, or if either of you cannot be contacted.
You will need this certificate in order to start a claim at an Employment Tribunal.
When to use the Early Conciliation scheme
Acas will offer the Early Conciliation scheme for most types of claims, such as those involving unfair dismissal, discrimination, redundancy payments, deduction of wages and unpaid holiday pay.
The scheme will not apply to a small number of claims, such as where there is little time left to make a claim, making it impractical. Further, the scheme will not apply if you have already referred the dispute to Acas, or if the dispute involves multiple claims.
Your employer can also request Early Conciliation. They will need to contact Acas and give your details using a request form from the Acas website.
If they do this then the time limit for making a claim will not be frozen and there will be no time limit for Early Conciliation to end.
See thefor more information on the scheme.
You must first complete a form ET1, which you can get from:
You should seek legal advice, such as from a CAB, when you complete the form.
Use the form to give information about yourself, your employer and your complaint, and confirm that you've followed your employer's grievance procedures when necessary. If you're complaining of unfair dismissal, you don't have to have used the grievance procedures, but your employer should have used the disciplinary procedures.
Send the form to the Employment Tribunal's central office. They'll send a copy to your employer, who has to respond within 28 days.
Most applications must be made within 3 months of the incident, but this can vary. Tribunals will only extend the time limit in exceptional circumstances.
Once an Employment Tribunal receives the claim and response, an employment judge will initially review them. The judge will then decide whether the claim or response (or any part of them) should be 'struck out', or deleted, so that the affected party cannot rely on it. The judge will do so if a claim or response is unlikely to succeed, or if it falls outside the tribunal's jurisdiction.
If the employment judge decides that the case should continue, the tribunal will send the parties instructions for preparing the case for a trial (case management directions).
The tribunal can then decide that your claim is not likely to succeed and order a hearing to look at the issues. If they think you are unlikely to succeed, they can make you pay a deposit of up to £1,000, which you won't get back if you lose.
If the case proceeds, 'case management discussions' can be held to clarify any issues. The tribunal can also ask for further information from you or your employer if they're unclear about the claim.
Try to settle your claim before going to the Employment Tribunal because you're not guaranteed of winning. You can usually withdraw your complaint at any time before the hearing. Acas will offer free and impartial conciliation to you and your employer.
The tribunal will inform you of the date of your hearing.
You don't have to appear in person, but you must tell the tribunal if you want the case to be heard in your absence.
When preparing for the hearing, ensure that you have all the documentation that you intend to use. It usually helps to consider things in date order to provide a sequence of events. If you're going to use any documents, you'll need to tell the other side, giving them at least 7 days' notice before the hearing.
At the hearing you (or your representatives) and your employer put your cases to the panel and answer questions. The panel or employment judge then comes to a decision.
You can take witnesses to the hearing who can give evidence to support your case. If any witnesses you would like to be there refuse to go, you can ask the tribunal to order their attendance.
You can represent yourself, and the panel will try to make things clear for you. The procedures are quite informal. There's no legal aid, but if you're a member of a trade union, they may pay for a solicitor.
Some household insurers pay reasonable legal costs - check your policy documents.
Unlike other courts, tribunals don't usually order either side to pay costs, except in exceptional circumstances.
If you represent yourself in a tribunal then you can claim from your employer a fixed hourly rate for the time it took to prepare. You can also claim the costs incurred for paying any witnesses' expenses. However, you must apply for such an order before you can claim these costs.
The tribunal can order your employer to pay you compensation. There is no limit to the amount of compensation paid in discrimination claims, or in dismissal claims based on health and safety grounds.
The tribunal can order your employer to pay compensation, which is unlimited for discrimination or dismissal related to six specified grounds related to health and safety.
For unfair dismissal claims, the award is made up of:
Pension contributions, benefits-in-kind and discretionary bonuses will be excluded when calculating your gross annual salary.
Note that not all unfair dismissal claims are subject to this limit, such as whistleblowing claims.
Compensation is intended to replace lost earnings - there's no payment for hurt feelings (apart from in discrimination cases). You have to try to reduce your loss (e.g. by getting another job or claiming benefit).
The tribunal can order your employer to give you your job back if you win a dismissal case, if you want it.
Any tribunal claims made could result in your employer paying a financial penalty. Before imposing the penalty, the tribunal must decide if there have been any 'aggravating features', e.g. if your employer fails to cooperate with you or the tribunal.
Even if you have not been awarded any compensation, the court can still order a financial penalty against your employer. If you have been awarded compensation, the financial penalty must be 50% of the award. This will also be the case if there are a number of individual claims made against your employer that you make alone or with other employees.
The penalty must be a minimum of £100 and no more than £5,000. Your employer does not have to pay the full penalty if they pay half of it within 21 days.
However, the tribunal must first consider whether your employer will be able to pay the penalty before ordering it.
If you are unsuccessful, then in exceptional circumstances a tribunal may order you to pay costs if it considers that you have acted abusively, disruptively or otherwise unreasonably.
Tribunals can make cost orders of up to £20,000. Therefore, you should be certain that you have a valid claim before starting one in a tribunal, otherwise you could risk paying the penalty.
You can ask the tribunal to review its decision, although the grounds are limited.
It's also possible to appeal to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT), which only looks at points of law (so you can't appeal if you think the Employment Tribunal just got the facts wrong).