Employment tribunals: What you need to know

Not sure what an employment tribunal is?

If you’re having a dispute at work that can’t be resolved, you might decide to take your complaint to an employment tribunal. But if you’re not familiar with what it involves, submitting a claim and attending a hearing can be a daunting prospect.

We’ve already covered why employment law exists, but here’s what to do if you think it’s not being adhered to:


What is an employment tribunal?

Employment tribunals are independent public bodies who resolve disagreements or disputes between employees and employers.

They could deal with a range of employment issues, from unfair dismissal, discrimination, and bullying, through to redundancy payment or wage disputes.

Unfair dismissal versus redundancy

Contract of employment – key terms explained and your rights


How can I make an employment tribunal claim?

If you have a problem at work that isn’t being solved through other methods (e.g. by submitting a grievance), you might need to consider taking your case to an employment tribunal.

To start your claim, you’ll need to fill out the ET1 form on GOV.UK.

This should include a detailed account (written in numbered paragraphs) of your complaint, covering events in order of when they happened.

However, before you proceed, remember that employment tribunal claims are taken extremely seriously by employers. So always ensure that you consult a representative or advisor first, to discuss your claim in more detail before pursuing.


What do I need to do before the employment tribunal?

A preliminary hearing will usually take place beforehand, which will give both parties an idea when they’ll be expected to attend the tribunal, and how long it will last.

This will also provide the opportunity for the employer to discuss a potential settlement with the employee. If an agreement is reached, the employment tribunal won’t go ahead.

If not, you will need to prepare:

  • Any relevant paperwork (e.g. employment contract, payslips, pension scheme details, or notes from meetings)
  • Witness details and statements
  • Notes to help you present your case


What happens at an employment tribunal?

Employment tribunals are usually held in a large room in an office building, rather than in a formal court room.

Here’s a breakdown on some of the steps that might take place:


When you arrive – you’ll be asked to sign in and wait in the appropriate waiting room (the claimant’s room). You’ll then be asked to hand over any documents you’ve brought with you. To allow time for this, you should always aim to get there at least half an hour before the hearing is due to start.

In the tribunal room – there will usually be a tribunal panel of three people, or one employment judge (who will run the hearing) sitting at a slightly raised desk. You’ll be seated in front of them, with witnesses and members of the public located at the back of the room.

During the tribunal – the panel members will start by introducing themselves, and the judge will decide which side goes first.Each party will be required to read out their witness statements and be cross-examined by the employee, employer, or the allocated representative.

After the evidence has been heard – you may be asked to make a closing submission, giving you the opportunity to sum up your claim and reiterate the evidence and legal arguments that have been given.

The tribunal panel will make a decision – this will either happen on the day, or at a later date. If you’re given an answer that day, the panel will take some time away from the room to discuss it beforehand. Otherwise, the decision will be sent to you in writing.


What should I wear to an employment tribunal?

Whilst an employment tribunal isn’t as formal as a court hearing, you should always aim to dress as smartly as possible.


Will there be costs?

From July 2016, employment tribunal charges were dropped, meaning you’ll no longer have to pay anything to make a claim.

If you had an employment tribunal before July 2013, you may also be able to claim back the fees you paid.

To find out how, visit GOV.UK.


Can I bring anyone with me?

If you have a representative, they’ll usually prepare your case in advance, and will come to the hearing with you. However, you’ll still need to speak when giving your evidence.

You’ll also be able to bring friends and family to support you, but they will be required to remain quiet, and sit in the allocated space at the back of the room.

What happens after the employment tribunal?

What happens after the employment tribunal depends on the decision the employment judge makes.

If you win your tribunal case – the sum will be decided upon and ordered by the employment judge, and your employer will have to pay this to you or your representative by a set date.

However, the employer might choose to apply for a review or appeal against this decision. If this happens, your claim may be referred to a higher court (the employment appeal tribunal), which is likely to extend the length of your case.

If you lose your tribunal case – you may be able to request for the claim to be reviewed, or appeal against the decision – but this is usually only an option if there was a legal problem with your case.

If you have a representative, they’ll be able to provide guidance on whether this is a good idea. If not, you may need to consult a solicitor for specialist advice on the matter.

The Equality Act: What you need to know


Where should I go for employment tribunal advice?

For more information and advice on employment tribunals, you can consult the below services:


This information is provided for guidance purposes only. For more details on employment tribunals, visit the gov.uk website.


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