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Employment Tribunal

Until 1998 the Employment Tribunals were known as “Industrial Tribunals”. The Employment Tribunals received over 115,000 claims in 2005/06. In 1988/89 they received just over 29,000 claims. This huge increase in claims highlights a number of developments in the last 20 years, including a large increase in the number of types of claim that can be brought which reflects the substantial growth of employment legislation in this period. In addition there is a greater awareness of legal rights among the working population, and a greater willingness on the part of individuals to pursue those rights.

In July 2013 issuing fees were introduced to the Employment Tribunals. This has resulted in a significant fall in the number of claims being received by the Employment Tribunals. A challenge to the fees in the Employment Tribunals was raised through the courts by UNISON, the union. In a decision given on the 26th July 2017 the Supreme Court announced that the fees in the Employment Tribunal (and the Employment Appeal Tribunal) were unlawful, and so were quashed with immediate effect. From the 26th July 2017 the Employment Tribunal no longer requires the claimant to pay a fee to commence their claim or request a hearing of that claim.

There is also clear evidence that the cases being handled by the tribunals have over the past years become more complicated, with cases regularly including multiple claims, - for example such as both unfair dismissal and discrimination.

The employment tribunal offices are located in a number of places around the country. The appropriate employment tribunal for dealing with a claim is determined by the postcode of the worker’s place of work (or former place of work).

Claims to the employment tribunal should be made on a standard Claim Form. In the majority of cases the claim will be submitted online. Just a handful of Employment Tribunal offices will accept Claim Forms received directly at their offices, within office hours. If the claim is accepted by the tribunal a copy of the form, and a blank Response Form is sent to the employer at the address given in the Claim Form. The tribunal will notify the employer of the date by which it has to submit its Response to the claim. Unless the tribunal agrees otherwise the usual time limit for the response is 28 days.

Many employment tribunals, on receiving the Claim Form (and the employer’s response) will send out an order setting out the steps that are to be taken in preparation for a contested hearing. The deadline for each step to be taken will be given, and a date for the hearing will be given. The usual preparation for the hearing will include exchanging documentation, witness statement, and sometimes a chronology of the main events in the case.

The panel that heard the case at the tribunal was, until April 2012 usually comprised of 3 people. The chairperson (now officially called an Employment Judge) will be a qualified lawyer, either a solicitor or barrister. The other two members were selected from panels chosen to reflect their practical experience within business and industry. Since April 2012 the presumption has been that the majority of cases, including unfair dismissal case, will be heard by just an Employment Judge, ie without the other two members of the panel. However, it remains possible to request a full three man panel if it is appropriate to the case.

Although the aim is to try to keep the proceedings as informal as possible, with the increasing complexity of employment law over recent years it has become almost inevitable that the hearings are now actually conducted in a rather formal manner – like the courts.

The Employment Tribunals do have powers to order that one or other party pay the legal costs of the other. However, these powers are exercised very rarely, and even when they are exercised the Tribunal will often limit the amount to be paid rather than automatically order the payment of the full costs that were incurred. Therefore any person or business venturing into litigation in the tribunal should not expect to receive its costs back, even if it succeeds in all aspects of the case. Even when costs awards are made they rarely cover all the actual costs involved.

The powers of Employment Tribunals in ordering compensation in unfair dismissal were fixed with regard to dismissals that took place on or after the 6th April 2023 to the sum of £105,707 (or the individual's annual pay-whichever is the LOWER) for the "compensatory" award. For those dismissals which took place between the 6th April 2022 and the 5th April 2023 the limit had been £93,878 (or one year's pay -whichever was lower). However a further award known as the "Basic Award" is usually awarded in addition. From the 1st April 2023 the relevant maximum figure for the basic award is £19,290. The calculation of this type of award is based on a set formula.

For sex, race, and disability discrimination disability discrimination there is no upper limit on the compensation award. The figure for unfair dismissal is reviewed annually at the beginning of February. Appeals from the employment tribunals are dealt with by the Employment Appeals Tribunal. With increased powers, and increased cases it is vital that the employers receive skilled experienced advice on dealing with cases in the employment tribunal.


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