Tribunal Talk: Navigating Employment Disputes

November 6, 2023

When workplace disputes are not resolved through negotiation or internal processes, employees may turn to employment tribunals to seek a resolution.  The employer is then obliged to defend itself against the allegations raised by the employee.  The process can be stressful and costly.  In this article, we will provide an overview of the role of employment tribunals, an understanding of when and how employment tribunal claims are made, and what an employer can do to mitigate the risk of claims.

What are employment tribunals?

Employment Tribunals are the judicial body with responsibility for workplace justice.  They are the main forum for deciding disputes between workers and employers and are part of the wider judicial system.

What are the common types of employment tribunal claims?

UK employers should be aware of the most prevalent types of claims that can lead to employment tribunal cases, including:

* Unfair Dismissal: Employees may bring a claim for unfair dismissal if they believe their dismissal was in breach of the employer’s statutory obligations.

* Discrimination: Claims of discrimination based on characteristics such as age, gender, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and maternity status are relatively common in employment tribunals and can result in the highest awards against the employer.

* Wage Disputes: Tribunals handle cases related to unpaid wages and holiday pay.

* Breach of Contract: Employees may bring a claim against their employer if they believe they have acted in breach of contract. The most common type of breach of contract claim is wrongful dismissal. Wrongful dismissal is where the employee alleges that the employer has failed to pay the appropriate notice pay under the contract.

What is the process for bringing a claim?

Understanding the employment tribunal process is crucial for employers. Here is a summary of the key steps within this process:

1. ACAS Early Conciliation:

Before an employee can file a claim, they are required to engage in ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) early conciliation, which aims to settle the dispute without going to a tribunal.

2. Claim Submission:

If early conciliation fails, the employee can submit a formal claim to the employment tribunal, outlining the details of their complaint.

3. Response:

The employer will receive a copy of the claim and must respond within a specified timeframe (usually 28 days from receipt of a copy of the claim), addressing the allegations.

4. Preliminary Hearing:

A preliminary hearing may be scheduled to clarify issues, decide on jurisdiction, and issue orders relating to the management of the case.

5. Full Hearing:

If no settlement is reached, a full tribunal hearing will take place, where both parties present their case.

6. Judgment:

The tribunal panel will make a decision based on the evidence presented and relevant law. If the employer is found liable, remedies may be ordered.

How can an employer avoid employment tribunals?

To minimise the risk of employment tribunal claims, employers can implement the following best practices:

* Clear Employment Contracts: ensure employment contracts are well-drafted, outlining roles, responsibilities, and dispute resolution procedures.

* Compliance with Employment Law: stay informed about UK employment law, regularly review policies, and ensuring compliance with statutory rights.

* Effective Communication: it is important to maintain open and respectful communication with employees to address concerns and grievances promptly.

* Training and Awareness: train managers and staff on key points such as anti-discrimination, harassment, and employment law compliance.

* Fair Dismissal Procedures: having, and following, proper procedures can reduce the risk of litigation. However it is worth taking legal advice to ensure you remain complaint with legislation as far as possible and limit your risk when it’s not.

* Record Keeping: maintain thorough records of employment-related decisions and interactions with employees.

How can we help?

Being proactive in preventing disputes and seeking legal advice when needed can help employers minimise the risk of employment tribunal claims. As such, we can help employers with the following:

  • Drafting employment contracts to ensure they clearly define roles, specify how disputes should be resolved, and are compliant with current requirements.
  • Provide relevant training (such as anti-discrimination, harassment etc.) to staff in various forms (i.e. in person, online or via an internal policy).
  • Provide guidance on dismissals (for example, the redundancy process, performance management, misconduct, etc.).
  • Legal representation regarding a claim (i.e. reviewing the grounds of the claim and helping to navigate this process, respond to the claim etc.).
  • Drafting settlement agreements to ensure they capture the terms agreed and will effectively prohibit the employee from bringing a claim.

Contact us now for a free, no-obligation discovery call.

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