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What You Need to Know About Employment Tribunals?

If you’re facing problems at your work and you are not able to sort it out with your employer, you may want to know if you have any legal options available. You must contact Acas first to try to resolve the dispute through early conciliation but if it doesn’t work out for you then you can reach out to the employment tribunal to claim breach of contract and unjust dismissal.

You don’t need to pay a fee to claim 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 submit claims in employment tribunals against their employers. Unfair and unlawful dismissals, discrimination, equal pay, and wage deductions are all prevalent allegations. Employees must initially contact Acas to try to address the disagreement through early conciliation.

What is an employment tribunal?

Employment Tribunals are bodies in the UK that deal with most work-related legal claims. Employment tribunals deal with claims brought against employers by employees. Claims can typically relate to unfair and wrongful dismissals, discrimination, equal pay, and deductions from wage deductions. Employment tribunals operate in England, Wales and Scotland.

The system is similar in Northern Ireland, although the tribunals are referred to as “industrial tribunals.” In Northern Ireland, there is also a ‘fair employment tribunal,’ which hears complaints of discrimination based on religious beliefs or political opinions.

Workplace tribunals were established to provide a quick, informal, and low-cost means of resolving employment disputes. However, employment law is complex, and while neither employers nor employees are obligated to have legal representation before a tribunal, many people opt to.

Check the deadline for making your claim

For most cases, you have three months plus one day from the date of the incident to begin early conciliation. After then, you’ll have at least one month to file a claim with the tribunal.

You have 6 months less than 1 day to begin early conciliation if you are claiming redundancy pay or equal pay.

You can claim payment until a tribunal evaluates your case in select very limited circumstances, such as if you were fired for health and safety or whistleblowing. You must file your claim within seven days of your dismissal. You should seek advice from a professional.

If you’re filing many claims, each one may have a separate time limit. If you’re claiming unfair dismissal and redundancy compensation, for example, you’ll have 3 months minus 1 day for unfair dismissal and 6 months less 1 day for redundancy pay.

Consult an adviser if you’re not sure if you’re inside the time limit for filing a claim.

Get an early conciliation certificate

In almost all employment issues, you must notify Acas of your intention to file a tribunal claim. Acas is a government-funded organisation tasked with resolving workplace conflicts. Informing Acas initiates a procedure known as early conciliation.

You’ll receive an ‘early conciliation certificate’ once early conciliation is completed. You’ll need to write the number on the certificate on your employment tribunal claim form.

Check to see if you must have worked for your employer for a specific amount of time.

Some claims can only be made if you’ve been with your employer for a particular amount of time. The ‘qualifying period’ is what it’s called. For instance, if you wish to file an unjust dismissal claim, you must have worked for your company for at least two years.

If you were fired for an automatically unfair cause, there is no qualifying time. You can find out which dismissal reasons are automatically unreasonable.

Consult an adviser if you’re not sure if you’ve worked for your employer long enough.

Check what types of claims an employment tribunal can decide

An employment tribunal can only hear claims from people who work in the UK against employers who are domiciled or do business in the UK.

Speak to an adviser if you do some or all of your work outside of the UK.

An employment tribunal can only decide certain types of work-related claims, including:

  • parental rights at work – like maternity or paternity rights
  • rights to pay – like unpaid wages, notice or holiday pay or not being paid the National Minimum Wage
  • losing your job – like being dismissed
  • discrimination – including equal pay
  • breach of contract
  • rights to time off work

Check if you need help to make a claim

You should also think about how much time and energy it will take to file a claim. It can be stressful, and hearing your case can take months.

Consider whether you require assistance with your claim. A lawyer is not required to file a tribunal claim, but it may be beneficial to get assistance. There are a variety of organisations that may be able to assist and advise you.

Check your insurance policy to see if it covers legal costs. Check with your labour union to see if they can assist you.

Check a tribunal can give you what you want

The most likely thing you’ll get from a tribunal if you win is compensation. It’s uncommon for a tribunal to require your employer to reinstate you after you’ve been fired.

Check if your employer is likely to pay you compensation if you win

Many people who win at an employment tribunal do not receive their full compensation. If your employer is having financial difficulties, for example, they are unlikely to pay you.

A larger corporation is more likely to pay any compensation award promptly and in full. You will have a harder time being paid if you work for a small limited company or as a sole trader.

It’s also worth seeing if your employer has been the subject of any other employment tribunal disputes and if they’ve had to pay any compensation. On GOV. In the UK, you may see if your employer has been found liable in any court cases. There is no charge for this.

You can look up if your employer paid compensation in the Register of Judgments, Orders, and Fines. To check, you must pay a charge.

What are Employment Tribunal fees?

Employees do not have to pay any fees to file a claim with the tribunal. In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled such fees were illegal. We applauded this decision because claims dropped by more than 70% after the fees were implemented, implying that the payments had an impact on employees’ 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 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 courts’ 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 submit 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.

What We Do to Enforce Payment

Once we get your instructions, we will immediately begin the process of converting your Award into a High Court Writ. This can take a few days, but we’ll take care of it for you. Then, depending on your Award, we’ll issue a High Court Writ of Control and send your debtor a Notice of Enforcement. This notifies your debtor that the Award has been moved to the High Court Enforcement Officer. This may be sufficient to compel your debtor to pay.

If not, we will send our enforcement agents to your debtor’s address and begin a conversation about paying you or taking goods into legal control after 7 clear days.


If you have an Employment or an Employment Appeal Tribunal Award and the respondent has not paid, you can enforce it using our enforcement services as High Court Enforcement Officers operating through ACAS and the Employment Tribunal Fast Track scheme. As your friend in business Shergroupies will take the problem off your desk and we take care of it. All you have to do is wait to hear when your employer is going to pay. If this sounds like a service, you need then reach out to us through our contact channels.

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Last updated | 19 July 2023

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