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What happens at an employment tribunal?

Apr 5, 2023 | Uncategorised

Whether you’re an employer or an employee, an employment tribunal can be a stressful affair.

It’s essentially a type of court – and while the judge won’t be wearing a wig, they’ll likely be sitting on a raised desk and be addressed as “sir” or “ma’am”. There are protocols about who speaks when. Combine these formalities with a dispute about dismissal, redundancy or unpaid wages and you’ve got a recipe for stress.

That’s why we’ve decided to write a bitesize guide to what happens at an employment tribunal. And while we’re focusing on “in-person” tribunals, we’ll also touch on their online counterparts.

So without further ado, what can you expect to happen?

Who is present?

An employment tribunal is presided over either by one person or three. In a (relatively) straightforward case of unfair dismissal, the judge will sit alone. If the case concerns whistleblowing, discrimination or something equally complicated, there’ll be a panel of three.

This consists of an employment judge (who runs the show) alongside two “non-legal members”. One of these represents the employer’s perspective, the other, the employee’s. This is intended to promote balance in the hearing.

Who gets to speak first?

The simple answer to this is that the judge will decide on the day. However, in claims concerning discrimination, the claimant-employee is likely to go first. In cases of unfair dismissal, the employer will probably take to the witness table first.

What does the claimant have to do?

First, the claimant has to be sworn in. As in court, you can either swear on a religious book or “affirm”. This is a promise that you’re going to tell the truth about the case at hand.

Once sworn in, the claimant takes a seat and confirms their name and home address.

The claimant will have prepared a witness statement ahead of the hearing. This is usually “taken as read” and not read out at the hearing. But, occasionally, the judge will ask questions about the statement if there are points that need clarification.

What happens next?

One party – or their legal representative – will give evidence. This will then be cross-examined by the other party or their representative.

Once the cross-examination is complete, the representative of the cross-examinee can “re-examine” the statement. This is where the legal representative clears up any obscure points in the statement.

After re-examination, the judge can pose any questions they see fit.

Evidence given and all examination complete, each party or representative will deliver their closing speech. This is a summary of their position addressed to the judge.

When does the judge reach a verdict?

After the closing speeches, the judge will retire to deliver a decision. This decision can be delivered either on the day or in writing at a later date.

What happens if an employer brings new evidence to the hearing?

In this eventuality, the employer has to get the judge’s permission to use new evidence.

The employee can request either a short break or a postponement of the hearing if they or their representative feel more time is needed to digest the new evidence.

It’s not a dead cert that the judge will agree. But if there’s a lot of new and important evidence to consider, it’s a strong possibility. And if this happens, the employee can ask the employer to compensate them for the extra time they spend considering the new evidence.

What happens if the employee wins?

If the employee wins the case, the judge can order the employer to pay compensation, pay any witness expenses, improve working conditions or reinstate the employee. More often than not, the outcome is compensation.

If the employee loses, they can challenge the decision.

Can the two parties settle on the day?

It’s obviously in the employer’s interest to reach an agreement before the hearing. Because of this, the employer’s representative will sometimes try to settle the case on the day.

This is one reason why legal representation can be advisable. It can be a hard conversation to navigate if the employer has representation but the employee doesn’t.

If the employee does agree to settle on the day, for whatever reason, then this agreement needs to be put in writing.

How is the tribunal different online?

The tribunal process is pretty much the same online as in person. The main consideration is checking the link that’s been sent to you before joining the call. This can help things to run smoothly, which is especially important on a stressful occasion like this.

Do you need legal representation?

It’s entirely possible to take part in an employment tribunal without legal representation. However, there are a number of reasons why seeking legal help can be advisable.

From an employee’s point of view, it’s highly likely that the employer will have a lawyer present. This can lead to the judicial equivalent of asymmetrical warfare, where the employer’s representative can demolish the lone employee’s case with ease.

An experienced lawyer can help to prepare the case for the maximum chance of success. They can also make sure that all the witnesses, statements and documents are ready. It’s not that you can’t do this yourself – it’s just that you might end up putting in a lot of work that doesn’t get you the outcome you want.

If you’re locked in a dispute, you’re likely to be experiencing stress – and stress doesn’t tend to mix well with time management. There are several deadlines to meet before the hearing starts. Having an employment lawyer deal with them can take a weight off your mind.

So while it’s perfectly possible to represent yourself at an employment tribunal, it might not be the best way to reach your desired outcome.

At Milners Law, our expert Yorkshire employment lawyers have your back and support you with friendly, no-nonsense guidance. Interested? Please don’t hesitate to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.


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