If you have had a problem at work, which you were unable to resolve internally, or through the early conciliation process operated by ACAS, you may find yourself having to pursue your issue to a tribunal hearing. This is not a decision to be taken lightly – not least because of the costs involved – but if you do need to take your case before the tribunal, you must make sure that you are well prepared beforehand.
If you are being supported in your case by your union, they will help you prepare your case before the day. Alternatively, you may seek support from an employment lawyer or your local Citizens Advice Bureau – or you may choose to fully prepare and represent your case alone with reference to online resources such as the UK government site. Whatever your circumstances, there are certain key steps to take to ensure you are ready for the day.
When you submitted your tribunal application, you will have given details of your claim, and why you think that you have been treated unfairly and unlawfully at work. If you and your employer used the ACAS arbitration service, you may well have already heard their side of the case through this process – but if your issue is to be pursued to the tribunal, the employer must formally respond to your tribunal application. This response must be set out in writing and must be available within given time limits – usually within 28 days of your application. Once you have received the response to your case, you should be in a position to start properly preparing for the hearing.
In some cases, the tribunal will request a preliminary hearing. During this meeting, the full case is not heard – but you may be asked to attend the court to talk to the tribunal judge about your case. This allows the judge to check the details of the claim and confirm if all or some of it can proceed to a full hearing, and also allows him to assess the length of time that should be set aside for the full hearing. You can then agree on a date with all relevant parties when the hearing should proceed, and also make any special arrangements such as getting a court translator if necessary.
You may request documents relevant to your case from your employer, and in turn the employer can ask you to provide details which are relevant to them. Usually, the dates by which documents should be handed over is set by the tribunal, and you may ask or be asked for meeting notes, policy documents, pay slips, and so on, depending on the nature of the case. This bundle of documents is then provided to all parties to ensure that everyone involved – you, your employer, and the tribunal members – are fully aware of the basis of the case.
In some cases, you may choose to ask relevant witnesses to attend the tribunal. They must be able to give evidence that is directly relevant to your case, and you are likely to be asked to pay any expenses incurred by their attendance. If you want a witness to attend, but they are unwilling to come along, you can ask the judge to order them to attend – in this case, you must apply formally to the tribunal explaining the circumstances.
Once you have set out your case clearly in the application to the tribunal and read your employer’s response to your points, you should be able to use the documents you have in your court bundle to confirm that what you are saying is factual, and demonstrate as far as possible the case you have to make. Witnesses can also support your point, and may be asked questions by the court.
Spend some time thinking about the likely arguments and questions to ensure that you are prepared to answer, and have all the important documents to hand, and in this way you will be as well-prepared as possible for the upcoming case.