Employment Tribunals deal with workplace disputes, like unfair dismissal, redundancy, and claims of discrimination. They also hear cases involving unpaid wages and protected disclosures (often known as whistleblowing).
People can bring their own legal representation to an employment tribunal hearing or represent themselves. Some trade unions and law firms offer free representation and advice for employment tribunal claims.
When you are representing yourself at a Tribunal hearing you need to prepare your case. This includes filling in any relevant forms, collating evidence and identifying witnesses. You also need to prepare for cross-examination by working out what information you need the tribunal to hear and designing questions that will extract this. Specialist solicitors and barristers are highly skilled in this and can quickly identify the information that is crucial to your case.
At the tribunal hearing you will be seated in a room with an employment judge and any lay members of the panel. Each party will then present their case by calling witnesses and producing any documents they wish to use. The other side will then be able to cross-examine the witnesses.
At the end of the case the representative will make what are known as closing submissions. This is where they seek to persuade the judge, through legal arguments and summaries of the evidence, that their client should win the case.
A representative will help you to complete your tribunal claim form and answer any questions from the Tribunal on legal points. They will also work behind the scenes to agree timelines with your employer for sharing documents with them.
It can be difficult to get witnesses to attend and they may sometimes change their minds – this can make it hard to question them. An employment tribunal representative will often try to persuade them to attend.
At the main hearing, both parties will sit at tables facing an employment judge and tribunal members (collectively called the panel). They will each be able to present their argument to the panel and call witnesses. The respondent can then ask the claimant and their representatives questions – this is called cross-examination. It is important to have specialist employment tribunal representation because failure to do so can lead to costly reputational damage and business losses. The best way to prevent such a claim is by carefully managing workplace disputes via your internal procedures.
The employer’s representative, if they have one, will usually ask you questions about your evidence. This is called cross-examination and it’s your chance to question the facts your employer has given as part of their case. It’s important that you answer these questions honestly but don’t be rude or aggressive – it might damage your chances of winning the claim.
Both sides might call witnesses to support their claims. These people will be asked questions by the judge and their representatives. They will have to give their evidence on oath or affirm – that means they’re promising it’s true.
If you win a tribunal claim, your employer may have to pay your legal costs. However, you might be able to get free representation or advice through ACAS or a trade union. You might also be able to apply for a grant to cover the cost of your representation or advice from the Legal Aid Agency.
An employment tribunal hearing will usually involve a panel of three people – an employment judge who is legally qualified and two non-legally-qualified members, normally one of whom has a background giving their perspective as an employer or a representative from a trade union. The tribunal is more informal than a normal court but still has rules about what happens and who speaks when.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will make a decision about liability and list the case for a remedies hearing (to decide compensation). Sometimes they will announce their decision at the end of the hearing; other times they may send it to you later.
Specialist employment law representation is essential to protect your business and reputation should a claim be made. It can also help you to avoid costly and protracted tribunal proceedings by ensuring that claims are dealt with appropriately from the outset. Often claims can be settled before a full hearing, or after a liability judgment but before the tribunal lists it for a remedies hearing.