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Employment Tribunals

One of the questions we often find our clients ask is what actually is an Employment Tribunal and is it the same as a court of law? We thought we would address these and other such questions.

Tribunals are independent judicial bodies who resolve disputes between employers and employees over employment rights. They were originally set up to provide a relatively cheap, speedy, and informal means of settling employment rights disputes. While they are still less formal than civil courts, they have become more legal and formal as the law has become more complex.

Before reaching a Tribunal there are legally prescribed alternatives which must be followed that may be able to resolve the issue. For example, some disputes are better suited to conciliation by the employment advisory service ACAS. Conciliation is voluntary, so both sides must agree before you can go down this route. If conciliation is unsuccessful you would then progress to an Employment Tribunal. There is no longer a fee to bring a case, as of July 2017, when a union-backed case at the Supreme Court ruled charging for access to tribunals was unlawful.

Tribunals are serviced by regional offices; across the country they process the claims and arrange the hearings. In less complex cases such as unfair dismissal or wages claim, a case will be heard by an Employment Judge sitting alone. An Employment Judge must have at least 5-7 years post qualification experience and have gained legal experience during that time. However, there is no requirement for them to have been a solicitor or barrister.

In more complex cases such as discrimination, the Judge will be accompanied by two wing members, one most likely from a trade union background (to give the perspective from an employee’s point of view) and one from an HR/business background (to give the perspective from the employer’s side). Whilst panel members are non-qualified, they must have relevant professional experience.

Now we know what an Employment Tribunal is, how many applications are actually made?

Figures from the Tribunal statistics report that from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 a total of 103,984 employment tribunal applications were made. This compares to 121,111 the previous year and 109,685 in 2017/18.

The number of awards of compensation has also fallen from 774 in 2018/19 to 740 in 2019/20. As usual this is a very small proportion of the overall number of claims raised but is should be remembered that a very significant number of cases will resolve themselves, usually on a confidential basis, by way of a financial settlement before a Tribunal hearing takes place.

The highest sum awarded in the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 was £265,719 and was awarded in a disability discrimination claim. This was closely followed by an award of £243,636 for an age discrimination claim. These awards are though considerably lower than some of the awards that have been reported in recent years. For example, the highest award made in 2018/19 was £947,585 (awarded in an unfair dismissal case).

The average wait time between an employment tribunal receiving a claim and it being heard hit 323 days during the peak pandemic months of April-September 2020 – up from 284 days pre-Covid.

With the volume of applications, it is vital that companies know what to do. The ever more complex framework presents so many challenges and potential pitfalls getting the right guidance and support is essential to the correct handling of these a Tribunal case. If you do find yourself in need of help then please reach out to us at any time. call us on 01935 411 191 or email to speak to one of our consultants about any HR related topic. A member of our consultancy team will be available to help you with any HR, Recruitment or Training queries you may have.


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