Wondering about employment tribunals? Here's everything you need to know.
What is an employment tribunal?
An employment tribunal is a public body in parts of the United Kingdom (England and Wales and Scotland) that has statutory jurisdiction to hear various kinds of disputes between employers and employees. The most common disputes are usually regarding topics like employment discrimination.
The employment tribunals are a part of the UK Tribunals System, which is ultimately overseen by the tribunals service and then regulated by the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council.
"Employment law disputes which cannot be resolved in the workplace or through conciliation may eventually end up in the employment tribunal," according to Rocket Lawyer. "Cases are normally heard by a panel of three people: a legally qualified employment judge, a person representing the employer’s organization and a person representing the employee’s organization. Although they are less formal than courts, employment tribunal decisions are legally binding and must be followed by both employer and employee. Some employment disputes that are heard in the employment tribubal can concern unfair dismissals, redundancy payments, discrimination or harassment."
So, what is the purpose of an employment tribunal?
"The purpose of the employment tribunal is for it to make decisions about employment disputes," according to Quest Cover. "Pursuant to employment law/regulations, employees have various employment rights which are protected. As an employer if you breach these rights, an employee could take you to employment tribunal to seek remedy/compensation. You can be taken to an employment tribunal for a number of issues such as discrimination at work, unfair dismissal or an issue relating to wages or redundancy payments. However please note that there are many other types of employment claims which can be brought by an employee."
So what can an employment tribunal do exactly? An employment tribunal might work on disputes such as:
- unfair dismissal claims
- wrongful dismissal claims
- discrimination claims
- equal pay claims
- deduction claims
- redundancy claims
- breaches of contract
- unfair working hour claims
- statutory holiday entitlement
- underpayment of minimum wages
- breach of Agency Workers Regulations
- refusal of employment based on trade union membership
- part-time discriminatory claims
- public duty and trade union refusal
- other related contractual disputes
How the process works
The process for submitting a claim is easy, and it can be done online, by mail or over the phone. Though time limits should be observed.
Generally speaking, claims must be submitted within three months of the earlier date of either the date when employment ceased or the date when the incident/issue occurred. Meanwhile, the time limit for redundancy pay and equal pay cases is set at six months.
"The time limit is not affected by the mandatory early conciliation procedure," according to Rocket Lawyer. "The period of time between the Early Conciliation notification being submitted and the certificate being returned by ACAS does not count towards these time limits. Effectively the conciliation procedure ‘stops the clock’ on the time limit."
What happens when you make a claim?
"Once a claim has been made, the other party has to reply in writing within 28 days, setting out their arguments," according to Rocket Lawyer. "A preliminary hearing may be held, to decide on practicalities (such as time and date of the full hearing) and whether part or all of the claim can go ahead. Documents need to be arranged and exchanged prior to the full hearing and witnesses organized. Note that witness statements are normally not used in Scotland. The hearing will then take place and both employee and employer will submit their arguments. The ET will either come to a decision immediately or it may take a few days or weeks to be notified of their ruling."
What you should do before you make one
Before you make a claim, there are some factors to consider.
- Make sure that your dispute relates to an issue that the employment tribunal can solve (and that you don't have to go to actual court instead).
- Make sure that too much time has not passed before submitting your claim.
- Make sure to have a full understanding of the issue at hand so that you can file a comprehensive claim.
- Be sure that you can pay the fees (see below).
Jurisdiction and hearings
Employment tribunal hearings can either be preliminary hearings or final hearings, which are both heard by either an employment judge or an employment judge and two lay members (one from the employer's panel and one from the worker's panel). This depends on the type of hearing and claim being considered.
Hearings are typically held at tribunal offices or in hearing centers that are located throughout the United Kingdom. In some limited situations, a hearing may also be conducted over the phone. Parties may appear before the employment tribunal in person or be represented by a legal or lay representative, and employment judges may give assistance to who those cannot get professional representation.
"The employment tribunal does not have the same strict rules of evidence as the civil or criminal courts and may, but does not have to, admit hearsay evidence," according to Lexis Nexis. "Witness statements are normally taken as read and stand as the 'evidence in chief' of the witness. Witnesses are required to take an oath or affirm before giving live oral evidence, which principally consists of first confirming that the contents of their witness statement are true to the best of their knowledge and belief and then answering questions from the other party's representative ('cross-examination'), the tribunal and then from their own representative ('re-examination')."
Reviews, appeals and unpaid rewards
If you're unhappy with the outcome, however, there are some steps you can take. You can appeal the employment tribunal decision in the first instance of an employment appeal tribunal; you can send it back to the employment tribunal for reconsideration or just dismiss it altogether. Likewise, if the judgment was sent to you without reason, as well, you can ask for reasoning within a two-week period (14 days) — and then you have 42 days after receiving the date the reasons for the judgment to put in your appeal.
You can also send further appeals to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.
Do you have to pay for a tribunal?
Yes. The following fees apply in employment tribunal claims:
- an issue fee (This is paid when a claim or employer's contract claim is first brought to an employment tribunal.)
- a hearing fee( This is paid on a specified notice alongside the notification of the listing of a final hearing of the claim.)
- an application fee
- a judicial mediation fee (when both parties agree to attend a judicial mediation to attempt to resolve the dispute)
"The amount of the fee depends upon the type of claim and how many claimants are involved in the claim," according to Lexis Nexis. "Claims can be presented and the issue fee paid online, by post (for claims in England and Wales only to the Employment Tribunal Central Office for England and Wales and for claims in Scotland only to the Central Office for Scotland) or by hand (only to certain 'designated tribunal offices' on certain days and during certain hours). Failure to pay the issue fee or to apply for remission at the same time as presenting the claim will result in the claim being rejected."
How long does employment tribunal take?
Every employment tribunal is different depending on the claim and how quickly parties can come to resolve the issue. That said, it usually takes months.
Do I need a solicitor for employment tribunal?
No, you do not need to have a lawyer to go to an employment tribunal. While it is not necessary, however, they can be helpful in helping you to prepare and present your case.
Is an employment tribunal a court of law?
No, an employment tribunal is not a court of law. In fact, an employment tribunal deals with very different cases from a court of law — disputes that cannot be solved in a court of law. Meanwhile, a court of law deals with disputes that cannot be solved in an employment tribunal.
"An employment tribunal is much less formal, less expensive and a significantly faster way to resolve employment disputes," according to Tough Nickel. "Tribunal members often have specialized knowledge in contractual and employment-related laws whereas an ordinary court judge has a general knowledge of all the laws. The majority of contractual disputes are adjudicated by the ordinary courts of law (High Court in England); however, specialized disputes can be resolved in an employment tribunal. There are many employment rights that do not appear in contracts and these can only be enforced and regulated by employment tribunals and not ordinary courts of law. Ordinary courts of law typically deal with disputes relating to accidents at work, severance pay, wrongful dismissals, restrictive covenants and more serious issues such as forced sexual relations by employers on employees which may hold criminal charges. These disputes cannot be solved by an employment tribunal."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.