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If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your employer’s formal grievance or disciplinary procedures, you may wish to take your case to an employment tribunal to get things set right.
Employment tribunals are independent bodies able to make a ruling on workplace issues which have not been satisfactorily settled through the formal procedures your employer has in place. If you have been wronged by your employer, the employment tribunal could be your chance to see justice done.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your employer’s formal grievance or disciplinary procedures, you may be eager to take them to an employment tribunal. However, before this, you have the option of seeking what is known as Early Conciliation.
Early Conciliation is a service offered by Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) and is the next recommended step if you’ve had an issue at work which your employer has not dealt with to your satisfaction.
Early Conciliation is a free service which involves you and your employer discussing the issue with an independent representative from Acas, who will then attempt to find a solution which is acceptable to both of you. Initial discussion will usually take place over the telephone but further in the process, meetings may be arranged with the goal of reaching an agreement between worker and employer on how the dispute should be tackled.
If you and your employer are able to agree on a course of action through Early Conciliation, you will both sign a settlement which explains what has been decided. This settlement is legally binding, so both worker and employer must do whatever has been agreed.
Early Conciliation was introduced in an attempt to reduce the number of workers taking their employers to an employment tribunal. While you do not have to undergo Early Conciliation, you must at least contact Acas to discuss your dispute before you are able to take your employer to an employment tribunal, should this be your chosen route.
The Acas website has more information about early conciliation, including how to apply.
If you have exhausted the other avenues of complaint available to you, you may decide to take your employer to an employment tribunal.
Employment tribunals are independent bodies which deal with claims by workers who feel that they have been treated in an unfair or illegal way at work. An employment tribunal hearing will decide whether your employer was in the wrong regarding your dispute.
There are strict time limits for applying to the tribunal, so it is important that you do not delay if you think you have a claim. In most cases, the time limit is set at three months from when the issue in question last took place. For example, if you are taking your employer to a tribunal as they often neglect to pay your wages on time, you must apply to the tribunal within three months of their most recent failure to do so. If your case concerns dismissal from your job, you need to apply within three months of your employment coming to an end.
Since you will need to speak to Acas and potentially undertake Early Conciliation before you can apply to an employment tribunal, the time limit is ‘paused’ while you do so. Once Acas is no longer dealing with your claim, the clock begins ticking once more.
Employment tribunal time limits are extremely important and can be quite complicated, so it is advisable to seek professional advice on your specific circumstances to ensure that you are not caught out.
You must pay a fee when applying for your case to be heard at an employment tribunal, along with another fee for the hearing. There are two kinds of claim - type A and type B - which require different fees to be paid.
Type A claims include cases relating to unpaid wages or redundancy pay, breach of contract, or annual leave. It costs £160 to make an application for a type A claim and £230 to attend a hearing.
Type B claims include cases relating to unfair dismissal, equal pay disputes, discrimination and whistleblowing. It costs £250 to make an application for a type B claim and an eye-watering £950 to attend a hearing.
If you cannot afford to pay these fees, you may be able to get financial help from the government to do so, under what is known as the fee remission system. This may cover part or all of the cost of the fees, depending on your income and other factors. You may also be reimbursed for these fees by your employer if you win your case.
You can submit your claim to the employment tribunal online. When your application is received, your employer will be contacted by the tribunal so they can give their side of the story before a hearing is conducted. If they fail to respond within 28 days, an employment judge may make a decision based on your claim without a hearing taking place.
If your employer responds to your claim, an employment tribunal hearing must take place. A judge may meet with you beforehand to discuss when the hearing should be, how long it is likely to take, and any other decisions which need to be made. You will subsequently receive a letter saying when and where your tribunal hearing will be.
The hearing itself involves a panel or a judge listening to both you (or someone representing you) and your employer explaining each side of the story. You will need to provide any evidence you have to support your statements. After this, they will ask you and your employer questions to clarify the issue, before finally making a decision on your case.
Usually, you will hear the tribunal’s judgment that day, but in more complex cases they may send you a letter a few days later.
If you win your case, the tribunal will tell your employer what they have to do in order to make things right. Your employer may have to pay you compensation (as well as your tribunal fees), make changes to your working conditions, or even give you your job back.
The amount of compensation you will receive depends on a number of different factors relating to your situation and job, and what kind of claim you made. However, there are usually upper limits for how much compensation can be paid to you, except in cases of discrimination. You may receive additional compensation if your employer fails to do anything the tribunal told them to do.
If you don’t win your case, there are still options available to you. If you think there were problems with the way the tribunal’s conclusion was reached, if you were not at the hearing, or if new evidence has come to light relating to your case, you can write to the tribunal office to request a review. You must contact them within 14 days of hearing the decision.
It is important to note that a review will only be undertaken if there is reason to believe that the tribunal made a mistake or that any facts or evidence were missed which may have made a difference. You cannot ask for a review simply because you disagree with their ruling.
Alternatively, if you think that the tribunal made a legal error when making their decision, you can contact the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which rules on points of law relating to employment tribunal cases.
You must usually contact the Employment Appeal Tribunal within 42 days of receiving the tribunal’s judgment. However, there are exceptions if you received the reasons for the tribunal’s judgment separately from the judgment itself.
If you asked for written reasons during the hearing, or requested them within 14 days of receiving the judgment, or if the tribunal chose to initially withhold the reasons for its decision and supplied them in writing afterwards, the deadline will instead be 42 days after you receive the reasons.
It costs £400 to appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal to review the tribunal’s decision, and a further £1,200 is payable if another hearing results from it. Justice.gov.uk has information explaining how to submit an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
To help people understand how an employment tribunal works, we've put together a video with our sister company DAS Law giving a step-by-step guide to the procedures involved in a hearing.