If a serious dispute has occurred within the workplace or you are unfairly dismissed and it cannot be resolved through the ordinary channels, the employee may be able to apply to an employment tribunal to make a decision.
The majority of legal cases in relation to employment are heard at a tribunal. Common issues dealt with include bullying in the workplace, redundancy, unfair dismissal and discrimination although there are many other claims that can be brought.
If you do have a dispute with your employer and you would like it to be heard at a tribunal the process is referred to as making a claim.
Submitting a claim very much depends on the merit of your case and the problem. There are also specific conditions that you have to meet such as time limits for bringing a claim. Before starting any tribunal claim it is important that you find out about your legal rights.
There are several ways in which you can do this, from consulting the ACAS website through to seeking advice from a solicitor who specialises in employment law.
Deciding to make a claim
Before starting any legal action you should carefully consider your options. Many cases can be resolved through legal cases and you must consult them to see if they can resolve your complaint before you pursue action through a tribunal.
ACAS may ask whether you would like to participate in early conciliation to avoid the need to attend a tribunal. Although this is not compulsory you do have to notify ACAS of any claim you would like to make.
If you inform ACAS that you do not wish to participate in conciliation or it fails for some reason and provided that you meet the conditions of a claim you can make a decision about making a formal employment tribunal claim.
Before doing so it could be beneficial to find out the strength of your claim and the chances of success before you proceed any further.
Fees and Costs
In July 2013 fees were introduced so if you wish to make a tribunal claim you must now pay fees. The first fee is for the initial claim and a second fee is payable if the claim proceeds to a hearing.
An employment tribunal is very different to a regular court hearing when it comes to costs. If you lose the chances of having to pay your employers legal costs is very low although you will have to pay your solicitor.
The legal representative of your employer may inform you they are going to apply for you to pay the costs of legal action. This is usually a scare tactic used to either get you to drop the case or accept a low settlement figure.
Situations where you would usually have to pay your employers legal costs would include bringing a case which stood a very low chance of success, your conduct was questionable or you declined a good settlement offer.
Attending an Employment Tribunal
Unlike a regular civil case, a tribunal is rarely held in court. More often than not they are held in an office building in a designated tribunal room. The tribunal panel are the people who will usually decide whether to uphold your claim.
Usually the panel includes three members including an employment judge who will lead the proceedings, an individual representing the employee’s organisation and an individual representing the employer’s organisation.
Certain cases are heard by an employment judge only but you should be notified who will be hearing your case as your claim progresses.
Within the room itself the panel will be seated behind a raised desk. The room will feel very much like a court but it is not as formal. The panel will not wear gowns or wigs but any evidence given will be taken on oath. There are also rules about the way in which the hearing runs and who is allowed to speak and when.
The majority of tribunal hearings are open to the public so could be beneficial to attend one so you can familiarise yourself with the procedure. Keep in mind though that all cases are different so the one you attend may be different to your own.
Changing your mind
Starting any form of legal action can be daunting. There are many reasons why a claimant may wish to withdraw their claim but it can be done. To stop your claim you must notify the tribunal in writing that you wish to do so. The timing though is very important.
The best time to withdraw your claim is when you have found out the case that your employer has put forward. This is the best time to evaluate the strength of your own claim and make a decision as to whether you wish to proceed.
If you leave the decision too late and your employer has spent a lot of money on legal fees they may ask that you cover their costs.
If a settlement is reached with your employer before you reach a tribunal hearing and your case is settled through ACAS your claim is usually withdrawn automatically and a hearing won’t be necessary. If a settlement is reached outside of ACAS or through another method your legal representative will need to ensure that your claim is withdrawn from the tribunal.
The Claim Form
As with any form of legal action you must complete the relevant claim form to instigate formal proceedings. For an employment tribunal the claim form is ET1.
The ET1 form can be completed online and it can be found on the employment tribunals section on the justice website
The claim form provides a section for you to make a statement about your claim. If the case does proceed to a hearing this is the first piece of information that will be read by the panel. This section is very important because it gives you an opportunity to draft a clear and concise account of your complaint.
Present the information clearly in numbered paragraphs and make sure you include everything that you wish to say because it is very difficult to add anything in at a later stage. Nevertheless you should avoid providing endless amounts of detail. Note down the facts and the main areas of contention.
When drafting this section you don’t need to quote the law or use complicated legal jargon but you must ensure that your complaint is sufficiently covered by law. Your employer may respond to your complaint and state that it is not the type of case covered by an employment tribunal.
If this is the case you must seek legal advice.
A claim to an employment tribunal can be a stressful experience. It is possible to represent yourself at a tribunal with success provided that you prepare yourself properly. The majority of cases will settle before they make it to a hearing and the process is designed to encourage early settlement.
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