If you are a business owner, employer or even employee, it would be prudent to have a basic knowledge about employment tribunals, as you may have to deal with one sometime during your career.
What is an employment tribunal? It is a judicial body, similar to those you’d find in court. Employment tribunals come with their own procedures and processes. These types of tribunals aim to resolve workplace disputes between employers, employees and trade unions by referring to current employment legislation.
This article will provides you with important information regarding employment tribunals, how they work, and how and when you should deal with them.
How does an employment tribunal work?
The most important component of an employment tribunal is the employment judge. Each region has its own judge and own tribunal. This judge needs to be a registered barrister or solicitor with a minimum of seven years of experience.
The employment judge is the one who takes charge of all proceedings and takes responsibility for advising the lay members. There are usually two lay members, often professionals such as trade union officials and company directors. Lay members have the same status as the judge and can overrule them in certain cases.
In essence, employment tribunals listen to claims in a hearing procedure and make decisions based on the evidence brought forward, while keeping in line with current employment legislation.
A president is in charge of all tribunal systems throughout the UK.
How are claims made?
In order for claims to be initiated, the claimant needs to complete an ET1 form, which can be found on the government’s website. In most cases, this form needs to be completed and lodged within 3 months of the incident relating to the claim. In the case of redundancy dismissal, claimants have 6 months in which to claim.
This ET1 form is the very first indication and information that an employment tribunal will receive with regards to the claim, so the details and information should be laid out clearly. An ET1 form can be rejected in certain cases, especially when out of the stipulated time frame. To avoid this rejection, claimants should make their claims well ahead of the deadline and allow for certain delays. The form is sent through the online claim portal provided by the government.
Once this form has been submitted, the ET1 will be assessed by administrative staff to determine if the form has been completed correctly, meets deadlines, and if the claim is within the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
If the ET1 form meets all the requirements, the tribunal will serve the form to the employer (respondent). The employer will have 28 days to file a formal reply on an ET3 form. Legal defence should be pleaded, and a reply should always be done within the timeframe if the employer does not want the judge to favour the claimant.
If the ET1 form is rejected by tribunal administration, the claimant will be informed of this rejection and how they should resubmit their form in situations that are applicable.
How to respond to a claim?
When the employer, aka respondent, receives the ET1 form, they will also receive an ET3 form, which they will have to fill out to respond to the claim. They will have 28 days in which to do this.
The ET3 form can also be downloaded from the government website. The employer will have to go into detail about their response and defence of the claim. All information should be relevant, including important dates and key evidence. If you are unsure how to respond to a claim correctly, perhaps seek advice from a legal professional.
What is ACAS?
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is a completely independent body that plays a role in employment tribunals. The UK government established this body with the aim to help various parties in coming to resolutions without having to go to an official tribunal hearing.
When a claim is presented, ACAS gets in touch with the relevant parties and offers resolution services. This is often the superior option as it is far more efficient, cheaper, and avoids too much public attention, which can be stressful for all parties.
In certain cases, the claimant may want to avoid ACAS and rather go through with an official tribunal hearing if they want to bring further attention to their plight.
How does settlement typically work?
Most parties will try ACAS conciliation, but if this process does not result in a settlement, the claim will be handled by the employment tribunal of the region.
The employer or the employee can put forward settlement offers at any point in the process. If any of these settlement offers are agreed upon, the ACAS should be contacted to formalise the settlement and record the agreement in a legally binding COT3 document to make it official.
The option available in these instances is judicial mediation which is seen as alternative dispute resolution and can be very beneficial for all parties involved, although it is not ideal in all cases. Judicial mediation allows the employer and employee to receive a mediation meeting, which is in many ways a preliminary hearing. An official employment tribunal judge oversees the process. The judge remains unbiased and neutral and is there to help parties resolve their dispute themselves without progressing to a final hearing.
The main advantage of judicial mediation is that it is completely confidential and a private affair. If things were to progress to a final hearing, what was said in judicial mediation cannot be brought up and will be conducted by a different judge entirely.
How the final hearing works
If your case makes it as far as the final hearing, there are a few things that you should know. Your case will need to be fully prepared, and you would need to have been compliant with all the directions given by the employment tribunal thus far.
Employees have the option of having either a solicitor or a barrister represent them at the final hearing. Alternatively, they have the option to represent themselves.
In most cases, final hearings take place in person. But in recent times, certain hearings have been known to take place electronically.
Both claimant and responder need to attend the final hearing, and if they cannot, their representatives must be there. Each will have the opportunity to state their version of events, and the tribunal judge will listen to both versions of events and why each party feels that their claim should succeed. If there are any witnesses, they too will have the opportunity to give evidence and be cross-examined.
The hearing is either solely conducted by one judge or by a judge and the two lay members, whose roles we previously discussed. Whether or not the lay members are present will depend on the nature of the case and the claim.
The judge is the one who makes the decisions regarding the outcome of the claims. The decision may not be delivered at the hearing but may be reserved for a later stage in which the decision will be sent out to relevant parties in writing.
If the employee wins the case, the award may also take some time to be deliberated. The award is usually monetary. In the case of dismissals, it is usually very unlikely that you will get your old job back. In most cases, it will be up to your employer to pay you your compensation. Unfortunately, there are many cases where employees battle to receive their agreed-upon compensation from their employer.
What type of cases do employment tribunals handle in the UK?
Employment tribunals in the UK handle a wide variety of workplace-related cases. While these cases vary, the core of these cases is often very similar in that they involve employees that feel that they have been treated unfairly.
Common cases handled by the employment tribunal include:
- Unfair dismissal
- Contract breaches
- Parental rights at work
- Rights to pay
- Rights to time off
Tips for employers when it comes to employment tribunals
If you are an employer, you want to avoid landing up in an employment tribunal, especially a final hearing. These hearings can become public knowledge and quickly degrade your business’s reputation, even if the claims are false. So how do you avoid this?
The answer is to ensure that your employees are being treated fairly. Having a good HR team in place can help ensure this and that your business and your employment contracts are completely compliant. Keeping your employees happy means that they feel secure to speak to you about any issues that may arise instead of heading straight to the employment tribunal.
If you do receive a legitimate claim from an employee, it is best to admit your fault and give them the settlement that they deserve, as well as an apology. When it comes to cases in which unfair claims have been made against you, well, that is a whole different story!