Employment tribunals

Overview

Anna Denton-Jones, Refreshing Law Last Modified  15 August 2017

Key points

  • Employment tribunals have jurisdiction to hear more than 80 types of statutory employment-related claims. Certain types of claims are specifically excluded from the tribunal's jurisdiction, such as those relating to restraint of trade, breach of confidentiality or personal injury.
  • In the majority of cases the time limit for starting proceedings in the employment tribunal (ET) is three months from the date of the act complained of, or where dismissal is involved, three months from the effective date of termination (EDT).
  • Since May 2014 anyone wanting to bring a claim has had to engage with Acas in the first instance through an early conciliation process.
  • The procedure for bringing a claim to tribunal requires the aggrieved person (the claimant) to lodge a complaint on the prescribed ET1 form, setting out particulars of the act(s) complained of. Fees to issue a tribunal claim were introduced on 29 July 2013, but these were ruled unlawful on 26 July 2017, and the Fees Order introducing them quashed, by the Supreme Court in the case R(Unison) v the Lord Chancellor (see 'Recent developments' below).
  • At the tribunal, an employment judge reviews the initial paperwork. The judge can dismiss a claim or employer's response where it has no reasonable prospects of success. A claim or a defence can be struck out at any time if it is scandalous, misconceived or vexatious, or if the conduct of the case has been scandalous, unreasonable or vexatious.
  • An employment tribunal can require the attendance of any witness including a party to proceedings. Parties are encouraged to prepare and exchange witness statements in advance.
  • Claimants or respondents failing to appear at the tribunal hearing without giving any notice to the tribunal may result in the case being dismissed or a judgment being given in favour of the party in attendance.
  • There is a right of appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) from a decision of the employment tribunal on a point of law only. An appeal cannot be lodged just because one of the parties is not happy with the tribunal's decision. An EAT's decision can be the subject of a further appeal to the Court of Appeal (England) or the Court of Session (Scotland), and ultimately to the Supreme Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Future developments

Tribunal fees - Supreme Court judgment
The UK’s Supreme Court has overruled government policy on tribunal fees, and quashed the 2013 regulations introducing them, in a decision on the case R(Unison) v the Lord Chancellor. Fees for taking a claim to a tribunal, or appealing a tribunal decision, are no longer payable, and the government has said fees paid to date will be reimbursed, but has not specified how this will be achieved (for more on this issue, see Legal round-up: August 2017).

The court’s decision does not rule out the possibility of the government introducing an alternative fees regime in the future.

In another development, since February 2017, decisions from employment tribunals have been published online, as part of a searchable database. Decisions from the EAT and higher civil courts are already published online.