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Resolving Employment Disputes

The courts of employment law


Resolving disputes

The employment relationship is covered by a combination of contract law (common law) and statute law.  Problems in the employment relationship are dealt with by the courts including employment tribunals. Most of employment law is civil law.  Civil law is when you (the claimant) sue another person (the respondent) for compensation or something else (called a remedy) in a civil court. The facts of your case is called a claim, and each court has a special form on which you write your case, and then submit to the court. You can sue an employer in the civil courts as a former employee or worker, an existing employee or worker, or a job applicant if the actions of an employer, former employer or prospective employer towards you is against the law, or has caused you some kind of loss. Employment cases start in the the Employment Tribunal, the County Court or the High Court.

The Civil Courts

The civil courts work on the basis of a hierarchy. If you lose your case in the Employment Tribunal, you can appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal if you believe that the Employment Tribunal did not apply the law properly to your case. The Employment Appeal Tribunal is higher than the Employment Tribunal so decisions of the Employment Appeal Tribunal have to be followed by the Employment Tribunal. The County Court has to follow the decisions of the High Court, the High Court follows the decisions of the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal follows the decisions of the Supreme Court.

Some employment cases are brought in the criminal courts. Examples are where an employer breaches certain health and safety laws, or immigration regulations. These cases start in the Crown Court.

ACAS Early Conciliation Service

ACAS is not a court or a tribunal. The organisation offers ACAS early conciliation which is compulsory before bringing an employment tribunal claim against any employer. ACAS Conciliation is free and can help you get clarity on your options, or settlement so that you can leave work if that is what you want. ACAS has a duty to conciliate in an attempt to reach an agreement between you and your employer before it goes to the Employment Tribunal for a hearing.

You can first file your claim in the Employment Tribunal, and the ACAS Conciliator will be sent copies of the tribunal claim forms automatically and will contact you and your employer to promote resolution. You must be careful during Conciliation because some of what you say during Conciliation cannot be repeated in a subsequent employment tribunal hearing. The time limit for filing your claim is paused whilst the conciliation process is going on. If the ACAS Conciliator decides that conciliation is impossible, or the problem is not resolved (settled) within one month, a Conciliation Certificate will be issued and your claim can proceed to the Employment Tribunal. You will need to show the Conciliation Certificate for your claim to proceed in the tribunal.

You can also voluntarily use the conciliation process for a serious problem that you can’t resolve through the grievance process. You don’t necessarily have to file a claim in the employment tribunal. Get advice from Employee Rescue about using ACAS Early Conciliation

Choosing a forum

The Employment Tribunal

The decision as to which court or tribunal to start your case in depends partly on the legal issues at stake, and the amount of compensation that you want.  A claim to enforce a statutory right against your employer is brought in the Employment Tribunal rather than in the regular courts. The employment tribunal has a jurisdiction list which is a list of the employment law issues that the employment tribunal will deal with, and the codes that are attached to them. The details of your case are written on a claim form called the ET1 and sent electronically or in hard copy to the Employment Tribunals Central office, and your employer replies on a form called the ET3 response form. Cases that can be heard in the employment tribunal include;

  • Discrimination
  • Wrongful dismissal
  • Unfair dismissal
  • Unfair constructive dismissal
  • Equality of terms (Equal pay)
  • Unauthorised deductions from wages

There are strict time limits for making a claim in the employment tribunal. The time-limit is usually three months less one day for each issue that you are complaining about.

County Court and High Court

Issues such as a breach of contract or negligence go to the County Court if the amount you are looking to claim is more than £25,000.00. If it is less than £25,000 they can be heard in the employment tribunal, but only if the employment contract has come to an end, and your claim is filed within three months of the contract ending. Claims for breach of contract or negligence which are in excess of £50,000.00 are heard in the High Court. In the County Court you start your claim on a form N1.

Cases that are heard in the County Court or High Court include;

  • Breach of contract claims about non payment of wages, outstanding benefits and notice pay.
  • Accidents at work, also called personal injury claims
  • Restrictive covenants
  • Other employment contract claims for damages

The time limit for breach of contract claims in the county court is six years from the date of the breach.

Who decides cases in the ET?

will Usually cases are heard by a panel of three people, made up of an employment judge who is an experienced lawyer, supported by two lay members. Sometimes cases are heard by a single judge.

Rules of procedure

Employment tribunals have rules about how they work, and what they expect from claimants, respondents and their representatives. These are called the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure. You should not start your claim or do anything in the Employment Tribunal without knowing what the rules say about what you want to do. The rules are detailed legal guidelines about;

  • starting a claim
  • responding to a claim
  • contract claims
  • case management orders
  • hearings
  • withdrawing cases
  • the tribunal’s decision
  • costs orders
  • delivering documents

Updated: 16/03/2020


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