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Employment tribunals


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.
  • 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.

Recent developments

Government consults on introducing single body to enforce employment rights

Following a proposal contained in the Good Work Plan, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has released a consultation examining whether a single enforcement body should be introduced for employment rights and obligations.

A single enforcement body will look to carry out enforcement which is currently undertaken by others, including holiday pay, the minimum wage (currently enforced by HMRC) and agency worker rights (currently enforced by the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate).

The consultation asks interested parties to submit their views on the remit and enforcement powers of this body, as well as asking whether it should carry out enforcement of statutory sick pay and unpaid tribunal awards. More information can be found in our news article.

Increased penalties for breach of employment rights

An independent review into modern ways of working, and the effectiveness of the tribunal system in enforcing rights, was carried out by Matthew Taylor and resulted in the Good Work Review which was published in July 2017.

Following consultations on this matter, the government’s ‘Good Work Plan’ released in December 2018 confirmed that legislation will  introduce sanctions for organisations who commit repeated breaches. The maximum penalty for an aggravated breach increased, from £5,000 to £20,000, with effect from 6 April 2019. 

New 'naming and shaming' scheme for unpaid tribunal awards

Organisations who fail to pay employment tribunal compensation awards within 42 days of the judgment could be publicly named by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Claimants who do not receive their compensation payment can notify BEIS under the penalty enforcement scheme. BEIS will write to the organisation, providing a further period of 28 days to pay the award. A failure to pay within this time period will result in a penalty notice and a naming notification letter, whereby the organisation is provided with 14 days to notify BEIS of the valid reason why they can't be named.

Naming lists will be publicly released by BEIS on a periodic basis. The scheme applies to any tribunal compensation awarded on, or after, 18 December 2018.