Under UK law, eligible employees are entitled to lodge a complaint with the employment tribunal if they feel that they have been unfairly and unlawfully treated at work. This may be the case, for example, if you feel that you have been discriminated against unfairly, dismissed without cause, or if wages are withheld by your employer. The tribunal is less formal than a court – there are no gowns or wigs, for example, and many cases are heard only by one tribunal judge. However, the tribunal can still issue penalties to employers, such as fines, for breaches as they see them, in what is reasonable and legal at work.
It should be noted that tribunals are intended as a ’last resort’, rather than a first point of call, and any issue you experience at work should be first put to your manager and HR department to see if they can help you sort the issue without the need to turn to an independent adjudicator. However, not all issues can be sorted in this way, and this is where the tribunal can be an important support.
To lodge a claim you must be working within given time limits – these differ for different types of cases, but are usually around three months from the incident about which you want to complain. You must also check your eligibility in terms of your working status, especially if you are a contractor, freelancer or self-employer, as in these cases your employment status can be rather complex.
Before you consider making a tribunal application, familiarise yourself with the details available on the UK government website and with ACAS, the conciliation service. If you are still unsure about your eligibility, try talking to your Citizens Advice Bureau or a union representative.
Before you can lodge a claim with the tribunal, you must work with ACAS to seek early conciliation. This means that you will be assigned a trained individual to help you work with your employer to come to a reasonable conclusion without the need for a tribunal hearing. This service is used because early conciliation is both cheaper and less stressful than the need to attend a tribunal, and can help cases which are based around simple issues and misunderstandings come to a speedy conclusion.
Through using the early conciliation service, your time limit to submit an application to tribunal is also extended – for example, if you had a three-month limit on an application, but spend a month using the ACAS early conciliation service, then the limit for tribunal applications is also extended by a month.
Tribunal Application and Fees
Sometimes, however, either because of lack of participation or because the case is especially complex, the early conciliation service cannot help to resolve an issue. In this case, your recourse is to apply to the tribunal for a hearing. Doing so now incurs a fee dependent on the type of case you wish to lodge. Simple cases such as withholding of wages will cost £160 to lodge and a further £230 at the point of hearing, with more complex cases such as constructive dismissal or discrimination incurring fees of £250 to lodge and a further £950 at hearing. It is for this reason also that the early conciliation process is a useful tool to resolve the issue before reaching tribunal.
If you are a union member and are fighting a union-approved tribunal, then the union will often pay the fees – and in the event you win the case, your fees will be taken into account if the judge asks the employer to pay a fine or a settlement fee to you.
The tribunal process in the UK can seem daunting, but it can be a useful tool in situations where employee and employer are unable to resolve issues amicably. If you have concerns at work and are thinking of making an application to tribunal, then look over these steps to application, and take advice from an independent advisor, such as an employment law solicitor or a trained union official. You should then be able to assess if your issue requires the tribunal, and seek a resolution in the best way possible for your case.