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Losing a job is an upsetting experience for anyone, and it can result in serious financial trouble. As a result, many people may want to know if they have any legal options accessible to them. Breach of contract and unjust dismissal are two claims that can be filed in an employment tribunal. However, it’s important to understand whether you’re eligible to file such a claim and what your chances of success are.

Employees can file claims against their employers in employment tribunals. Unfair and unlawful dismissals, discrimination, equal pay, and deductions from wage deductions are all common claims. Employees must first call Acas to attempt early conciliation to resolve the conflict.

What is Employment Tribunal?

Employment tribunals in the United Kingdom hear disputes brought by employees against their employers over their employment or termination. Industrial tribunals are the name given to them in Northern Ireland.

Workplace tribunals were created to resolve employment issues in a quick, informal, and low-cost manner. However, employment law is complicated, and while neither employers nor employees are required to have legal representation at a tribunal, many prefer to do so.

The law of contract and statute law both apply to the job relationship. A tribunal or a regular civil court can deal with some commercial problems (for example the High Court). The majority of statutory rights can only be enforced in a court of law.

Examples of the types of disputes heard by employment tribunals |

  • Unfair dismissal
  • Wrongful dismissal
  • Discrimination (race, sex, disability, religion or belief; sexual orientation, age, maternity or paternity leave/pay)
  • Equal pay
  • Deductions from wages

Examples of employment disputes heard by the civil courts |

  • Accidents at work
  • Restrictive covenants
  • Contract claims for non-payment of wages
  • Wrongful dismissal claims and other contract claims

In Northern Ireland, there’s a separate tribunal, the ‘Fair Employment Tribunal’, which deals with religious and political belief claims. An Employment Judge usually decides tribunal claims. The judge will sit alone or as part of a panel that includes lay members depending upon the complexity of the claim.

Employment Tribunal Fees and Charges

Employees do not have to pay any fees to file a claim with the tribunal. Fees were imposed in 2014, but the Supreme Court pronounced them unconstitutional in 2017. We applauded this decision because claims dropped by more than 70% after fees were implemented, implying that the costs had an impact on access to justice.

In the future, a more equitable fee system may reappear. The impact of tribunal costs has been the subject of prior government reviews. An online and e-filing facility for numerous cases, including appellate courts and the Employment Appeal Tribunal, has arisen from a long-term assessment of the entire civil court’s framework in England and Wales.

Starting and responding to a claim

Before starting a claim, there are various pre-claim steps for employees (known as ‘claimants’) to follow |

  • Checking the time limits for bringing a claim, although in certain circumstances a time extension may be granted.
  • Participating in the employer’s own dispute resolution procedures in most cases.
  • Checking the Acas Code of Practice on discipline and grievance and procedures has been followed. (Both the employee and the employer are responsible for keeping to this code.)
  • Ensuring there has been an appeal following the employer’s procedures.
  • Contacting Acas for voluntary ‘early conciliation’ to see if there’s potential to resolve the dispute as an alternative to a tribunal claim.
  • Getting a ‘conciliation certificate’ which shows that the Acas help did not enable the parties to agree on a settlement.

After these steps, if the employee wishes to pursue a claim, they can complete a claim form (Form ET1) and submit it to the employment tribunal.

Upon receipt of the claim form, the tribunal |

  • Logs the claim.
  • Sends a copy to Acas.

Sends a copy to the employer (known as the ‘respondent’), together with a form for the employer to complete in response (Form ET3).

The responder has 28 days to fill-up the form and submits it to the tribunal. Employers should treat the response form as a top priority, seeking legal counsel if necessary. If the form is not returned on time, a default judgment may be entered against the employer, and the company will be unable to contest the claim. Although the employer can request a time extension from the tribunal, there is no assurance that it will be granted.

The employer lays up the major aspects of its argument in its response. It is not a wise approach to keep critical information hidden in order to surprise the employee at the hearing. The tribunal could impose sanctions against the employer or find that the late information is inadmissible.

The case may be listed for a preliminary hearing to further investigate the matter, or it may be listed for a full hearing. Giving ‘directions’ is when the tribunal offices give out instructions outlining the case preparation stages to ensure that everything goes well and on time. Dates for exchanging lists of documents and witness testimonies are examples of directives. Other important deadlines, such as the hearing date, are also specified in the directions.

The Tribunal Hearing |

Claims that are not settled or withdrawn come before the tribunal for a formal hearing.

Types of hearing

There are two main types of hearing |

Preliminary hearing | a short hearing to settle any issues so that the matter can move forward without delay before a full hearing, for example, there could be a debate about whether the claimant was an employee and so eligible to file the claim.

Full hearing | when all the evidence is heard.


To prepare for a full hearing, both parties will need to:

Lists of all documents related to the claim should be exchanged. Contracts of employment, letters, emails, meeting notes, and any other paper or computer-generated records, even if they aid the other party’s case, are examples of this. Both sides must agree on the materials, which will be submitted in one ‘bundle’ for the hearing. The response is usually the one who assembles the bundle. The bundle’s pages must all be numbered, with a contents page at the beginning.

Prepare witness statements from everyone who will testify at the hearing. The witness testimonies must be written in numbered paragraphs and will frequently refer to previously disclosed materials.

The hearing

Whether the tribunal is held in person or remotely, all parties and witnesses must arrive on time.

During the hearing, the Employment Judge normally lays out the main points and checks for any preliminary concerns. The witness statements have usually already been filed and are ‘taken as read.’ Unless the tribunal says differently, they are the witnesses’ primary evidence. In some situations, the judge may request that the witness repeat their statement aloud or explain certain key points. Before reading their statement or being questioned by the ‘other side’ and subsequently their ‘own side,’ each witness takes an oath. The judge has the authority to ask questions.

After all witnesses for one side have testified, it is the turn of the opposing side’s witnesses. Finally, both parties’ representatives will sum up their cases, and the tribunal will adjourn or, in some situations, issue a judgment right away.

Tribunals attempt to keep hearings to a minimum and judges are free to control the proceedings as they see fit.


Depending on the time available, the decision (called a ‘judgment’) is not always given on the day of the hearing.

If the tribunal decides in favour of the claimant, depending on the type of claim, the tribunal can award |

  • Reinstatement (the employee gets their job back).
  • Re-engagement (the employee returns to the organisation in a new role).
  • Compensation.
  • Payment of wages or monies due to the employee.
  • Reinstatement and re-engagement are rare.

Settlement of claims

An employer and employee may wish to settle an employment dispute without going through a full hearing either |

  • Between themselves directly
  • By using the conciliation service offered by Acas, or
  • By using an internal or external mediator – read our factsheet on workplace mediation.

The settlement will lead to an agreement ‘compromising’ the claim through |

  • A settlement agreement (previously called a ‘compromise agreement’), or
  • An agreement was achieved through Acas conciliation (a ‘COT3’).

Responding to claims has a high cost for employers especially in management time. We, therefore, encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution, particularly mediation, as a means of resolving disputes at an early, informal stage. We welcome the role of Acas in providing early conciliation.

Avoiding claims is even more critical since the COVID-19 pandemic as cases may increase and take longer to be heard. Internal grievance procedures and negotiations with employees internally may lead to more settlement agreements as even aggrieved ex-employees will prefer settlement rather than waiting for hearings which may take many months or years to reach a final stage.


If you have been awarded compensation against your former employer, either by an Employment Tribunal or by ACAS, and you haven’t received your money, use Shergroup’s enforcement solution.

As long as the Award is not more than 6 years old, we can help you enforce, or compel payment. You can use this service as soon as your employer defaults in making the payment.

All you have to do is upload your Award documents and fill in your details and pay our fee. Our friendly and expert team of Business Solutions Advisors will help you through our process and keep you informed of what’s happening.

Check out our solution to know more |

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Last updated | 19 July 2023

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