The Employment Tribunal has a strict three month time limit for submitting a claim. The deadline can be extended in very limited circumstances, if it was not reasonably practicable to bring a claim within the three month time limit, or, in the case of discrimination claims, if it would be just and equitable to give an extension.
Following the introduction of a mandatory period of “Early Conciliation” (“EC”) through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (“ACAS”), time limits may now also be extended (provided that a Claimant complies fully with EC requirements). When a Claimant commences the EC process, the limitation clock can be “paused” for up to one calendar month, plus a further 14 days if more time is needed. Tribunal time limits are complex and strict and you should seek legal advice on when you will need to submit your particular claim(s). The time limit generally starts from the final date of employment in Unfair Dismissal however limitation periods often start to run earlier in Discrimination Cases.
A Claim Form (“ET1”) must be submitted to the Tribunal within the three month time limit. There is no fee to be paid for submitting a claim to the Employment Tribunal.
Providing your claim is accepted, the tribunal will serve a Response Form (“ET3”) to your employer, who will have 28 days to complete and return it. You are then referred to as the “claimant”, and your employer as the “respondent.”
The Tribunal will either send both parties a written Order for Directions or set a date for a Preliminary hearing to decide the appropriate directions, dates and decide any preliminary issues. Directions include preparing and exchanging a list of relevant documents, preparing a schedule of your losses, exchanging witness statements and creating a numbered bundle of documents for use at the hearing. The Tribunal will also write with a Notice of Hearing, listing a date for the final hearing, including the number of days it is likely to take.
Employment Tribunals are less formal than the high court and county court (there are no wigs or gowns). Claims are usually heard in public by a legally qualified employment judge sitting alone. However, if your case is complex or lengthy, or contains allegations of discrimination, it is possible that it will be heard by a panel which also includes two lay members, one from an employee’s organisation and the other from an employer’s organisation. Each member of the Tribunal is impartial.
After the hearing, the Tribunal may give its decision on the day or may “reserve” its decision, writing to both parties at a later stage to provide an outcome. If you have been successful and the Tribunal did not have time to decide compensation at the hearing, they will list a “Remedies Hearing” to assess the level of compensation to be awarded, or to decide whether to order reinstatement or re-engagement.
You are under an ongoing duty to “mitigate your loss,” that is to search for alternative employment with similar income and benefits. You should, therefore, keep a record of your search for work. If either party does not agree with the decision, they have 42 days to appeal to the employment appeal tribunal, another fee is payable if you want to make an appeal.
In discrimination claims or claims of a high value or complex nature which are likely to be heard over at least three days, you may be invited to attend a judicial mediation to try to settle your claim without having a full hearing. ACAS will be notified of your claim when you submit your ET1 and will help you settle it if you wish to do so.
It is important to note that, unlike the county court or high court, costs are generally not awarded in tribunal proceedings and each party bears their own costs. There are exceptional circumstances where costs may be awarded, for example, if either party has acted "vexatiously, abusively, disruptively, or otherwise unreasonably" or they have been "misconceived" in bringing or defending proceedings. Such awards, however, are highly unlikely. It should be noted that if a claim is successful, the employer may be ordered to reimburse the Claimant for any tribunal fees paid.
It can often take three to six months from the date you issue your claim for the case to be heard and sometimes longer, if it is a complex matter and a lengthy hearing is required. If you would like further advice on tribunal procedure, please contact one of our employment law experts.