What is an Employment Tribunal?

11 September 2020

Employment tribunals are public bodies in the UK (England, Scotland, and Wales) with statutory jurisdiction to hear employee disputes.

If your business is facing claim, the results are time-consuming and potentially very costly. Losing a hearing can lead to large fines, depending on the type of claim.

Many small and medium-sized businesses choose professional representation to assist them through the process. This ensures expert support in the current employment laws, as well as fully understanding the claim an employee is making.

If you’re facing an employment tribunal, you can call us on 0800 028 2420 for immediate assistance.

The below guide also offers important information on what the process involves and how your business can comply with legal proceedings.

Having assisted thousands of employers with employment tribunals since 1983, our experience shows the most common types of disputes are:

  • Unfair dismissal—under the Employment Rights Act 1996, you can’t dismiss staff for reasons outside of “potentially fair reasons for dismissal”.
  • Redundancy payments—if an employee doesn’t receive the appropriate pay, they can make a claim.
  • Discrimination—this is where an employee receives less favourable treatment due to a protected characteristic.

Although this list isn’t exhaustive, ultimately it highlights why it’s essential your business must aim to treat all members of staff fairly.

Between April 1st 2018 to March 31st 2017, there some 121,111 employment tribunal applications.

If you comply with current employment laws and endeavour to treat your employees well, then that can help to reduce your risk of an employment tribunal.

But they’re common and, even after setting procedures with your employees’ best interests at heart, it’s still possible to end up facing a claim.

The employment tribunal process

It begins when an employee feels they’ve received unfair treatment. As we mentioned earlier, the reason for a claim is typically due to:

  • An unfair dismissal.
  • Missing pay after a redundancy.
  • An act of discrimination.

However, this isn’t an exhaustive list. There are a lot of reasons why employees may seek to claim

So, a member of staff will make a claim if they believe your business has treated them unlawfully.

Before they take it to that stage, they have the option to raise the issue with a line manager and your business. That’s on an informal level—you can encourage this by making your process clear in your employment contracts and company handbook.

This can result in a meeting to discuss the problem—that can lead to a simple resolution to the problem, or a way to alleviate the individual’s concerns.

After that, the employee can also raise a formal workplace grievance, which your business must investigate.

If this doesn’t solve the matter and they want to make a claim, there’s a limitation date staff members must stick to. They must make the claim within three months less one day—that’s after their employment ends with you.

Although claims for redundancy have a slighter longer time limit—six months after the end of contract.

The process has no government interference. The tribunal is there to listen to the “claimant” (the employee) and the “respondent” (the employer).

To start the process, they must inform Acas (the Advisor, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service) they’re planning to make a claim.

Who pays for the employment tribunal? No one, to begin with. Employees don’t have to pay any fees to bring a claim against a business (only after the case will fines appear, which the employer will have to pay).

Before a claim, Acas will offer the employee early conciliation—this is a free service for the member of staff. It aims to help resolve the issue with their employer before it turns into a claim.

If that’s unsuccessful, then a certificate notifies both parties. After this an employee can go ahead then the process.

Then it’ll advance to the next stage—they have one month after receiving the certificate to do that.

It’s up to the claimant to continue with the process within that time.

After they make the claim, the process will then move to an employment tribunal. During which, both sides present all of the evidence—the tribunal will then make a decision.

It’s a bit more complex than that—as, first, you should look to make sure you’re ready for the hearing that’s ahead.

Peninsula is an employment tribunal expert

Many small and medium-sized businesses decide to seek professional help in the event of an employment tribunal.

Since 1983, we’ve helped thousands of SMEs with employment tribunal representation. That includes assisting with:

  • Undertaking witness statements.
  • Researching and investigating employee claims.
  • Preparing legal documents.
  • Attending for employment tribunal representation.

Contact us, and even request a call back, if you’re looking for industry-leading support ahead of a hearing. We have a three-step process of:

  1. Researching your claim.
  2. Having our legal team prepare your legal documents.
  3. Fighting for your success in the tribunal hearing.

Take the stress out of a claim and put your trust in the expertise of Peninsula Business Services.

How to prepare for an employment tribunal

It’s good business practice to think what’s you need to provide at the hearing. And that’s to tell your story and provide evidence to back up your statements.

Remember, it’s essential to tell the truth. If any of you make false claims, that can have serious consequences.

As there’s a wait until the tribunal begins (and it can take quite a lot of time), gather all of the evidence you can. This can include:

  • Written statements.
  • Company logs.
  • Witness statements.
  • The employee’s contract.
  • Pay slips and salary details.
  • Letters, emails, or texts from the employee.

Even trivial pieces of information may have an impact on the outcome of the claim—so, remember to include it in your case.

Don’t write annotations on any of your documents—the tribunal may need them (such as for photocopying purposes).

Remember, the claimant (your employee) may contact you regarding who brings what piece of information—you both require a “bundle” and it’s important to determine who’ll present this at the hearing.

The bundle is the file of documents required for the tribunal.

It’s the evidence for the case—this typically happens in discrimination claims, but in most examples it’s left to your business to produce the bundle. And you’ll need six copies:

  • One for each member of the tribunal panel.
  • One for your business.
  • One for the employee.
  • Copies for the witnesses.

The possibility of a preliminary hearing

Before the main hearing there’s sometimes a preliminary hearing before the main tribunal happens. It’s mainly in use to assess if the tribunal can hear the case.

For example, the employer may argue the tribunal doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the claim.

It doesn’t always happen, but most likely will if:

  • It’s a claim for discrimination.
  • The case is particularly complex.

If it does go ahead, the judge will decide on where the main employment tribunal is. And they’ll also:

  • Determine specific parts of the case with you and the employee.
  • Make a decision on what should and shouldn’t be up for discussion.
  • Decide whether a Judicial Assessment takes place—it’s an informal assessment of the employee’s main hearing.

You and the claimant will receive a letter updating you if the preliminary hearing is happening.

At the Judicial Assessment, an employee receives details on whether they’re likely to win or lose their claim.

They’ll also receive details on the potential compensation they may receive.

However, the claimant doesn’t have to accept whatever the judge recommends to them.

What happens at an employment tribunal?

Employment tribunals normally take place in an office building—rather than a court—and are in a tribunal room.

This’ll be in an individual (and private) room for the employer and employee to present their side of the story.

Remember, it’s a public legal hearing—dress smartly for the hearing.

You should aim to arrive at least half an hour early, which’ll provide you time to prepare for the hearing. You’ll find a reception on arrival—a clerk will check you in.

As the employer, there’s a waiting room for you. This is a separate room to the claimant. And make sure you switch your phone off.

Once inside the hearing (which will be inside a room), three members of the tribunal will chair the hearing—the tribunal panel. The employment judge is in charge.  

He or she begins proceedings and you or the claimant must respond on cue—such as presenting your documents to the tribunal panel.

When speaking to the panel, address the individuals professionally—“sir” or “madam”.

Do note that, although it’s a formal and serious legal hearing, it’s not on the scale of a court. The tribunal panel aren’t dressed in gowns or wigs. You can also request explanations at any point, if there’s any confusion (such as with legal terminology).

The judge will decide whether you or the claimant makes the first statement. An employee typically begins with a witness statement.

After that, you and/or your representative can cross-examine the claimant with the documents you have available.

Once you, as the employer, have your turn you can do the following:

  • Call a witness to read out their statement.
  • You or your representative can ask the witness questions (cross-examination)—it’s a chance to clarify any statements that are unclear.
  • Ask your witness questions to ensure the truthfulness of their statements, which’ll help the tribunal panel to make an accurate decision.

Once all the evidence has been heard, there’s a chance for “closing submissions”—a summary statement to cover all the evidence you have.

Explain to the tribunal panel why you believe they decide your case is correct. Use a legal argument to support your claims.

But, ultimately, it’s essential to present the facts in clear fashion. Using legal terminology isn’t important.

After you and the claimant have provided the closing submission, the tribunal panel will update you on the process ahead.

This can take some time—they’ll inform you how long they plan to decide.

If it’s on the day of the hearing, you’ll have to wait for the verdict. Otherwise, it’ll come through to you in writing.

How to claim an employment tribunal fees refund

Should you win your case and want to claim a refund on the funds you spent, as a respondent you need the Form 1/2CR.

The address to send it to is:

HM Courts and Tribunals Service - England and Wales

Employment Tribunal - England and Wales

Customer Contact Centre

PO Box 10218

Leicester

LE1 8EG

It’s possible to email the service for further information: etrefunds@justice.gov.uk.

You can also apply online for a full refund. Either way is applicable—although the only option is faster.

What is an employment appeal tribunal?

It’s an independent process that aims to settle legal disputes. It’s a governmental service responsible for managing any appeals against an employment tribunal decision.

It looks into a claim to see if there are examples of:

  • Incorrect application of employment law.
  • Procedures in use incorrectly.
  • Lack of genuine evidence to support a claim (or defence).
  • Signs of bias through from the tribunal panel.

Need expert help?

Get in touch and we’ll help you with an employment tribunal, helping you to save on costs, stress, and time: 0800 028 2420.

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