Employment tribunals - what you need to know

Caroline Cassidy

Many problems that occur in the workplace can be resolved amicably and without the need for further action, but if you, as an employee, feel you have been unfairly treated and no solution can be agreed upon, a tribunal could be the next step.

Employment tribunals
Employment tribunals

Pic: Getty

Can I make a claim?
Employment tribunals deal with a wide range of claims, such as unfair dismissal, sham redundancy, discrimination, or unfair pay deductions. Whether you have a case will depend upon the evidence you have to support your claim, the evidence your employer might have, and what the problem is.

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Ideally you should do everything you can to resolve the problem at work, either by speaking to your employer, making a formal complaint, or using the pre-claim conciliation scheme run by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

If none of the above are successful, it is advisable to speak to a legal professional, who will speak to both parties and decide whether you have a reasonable case. A trade union may be able to provide financial assistance, and in the case of discrimination, the Equality and Human Rights Commission may be able to help.

Applying to the tribunal
If you believe you have a case against your employer or former employer, you can apply to the tribunal with a claims form, which is available to download from the Government website. In general, this must be done within three months of the problem. As of June this year, you must pay a fee to make a claim to an employment tribunal - £160 for straightforward claims and £250 for more complex case. You could also have to pay a fee should the claim go to a hearing, which can be either £230 or £950.

Your employer has 28 days to respond. If there is no reply, a judge may decide the outcome of the case without a hearing. If your employer does respond, you may be asked to attend a meeting with the judge to decide a date and time for the hearing, and discuss any other issues in relation to the case.

The hearing
When attending the tribunal, you should take along all the documents you intend to use to support your case. Both you and your employer will put their cases to either a judge or a panel, and both will answer questions. In most cases a decision is made on the day, although in more complex cases it may take longer and you may be notified by post.

The outcome
In the event that your claim is successful, the tribunal can order your employer to pay compensation, improve working conditions or re-employ you, if unfair dismissal was the problem. How much compensation you receive will depend on the length of time you were employed, your age, salary and the nature of the complaint, but there are usually set limits as to how much you can get. Only in the case of discrimination is there no limit to the amount of compensation. Your employer can also launch an appeal, which may delay payment.
Should you lose the case, you have the right to appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, or you may ask the tribunal to review the decision. To do this, you must write to the tribunal office within 14 days of the judgment, explaining why you believe the case should be reviewed.

Employment tribunals can be stressful and the system is designed to encourage employee and employer to settle their differences without the need for legal action. However, if you believe you have been unfairly treated, or would like to know more about the process, it is worth speaking to Citizen's Advice or a solicitor about whether to take things further.

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