Employment tribunals and the courts
Employment tribunal claimsAn employment tribunal claim may be an avenue available to you if you’re unhappy with a decision taken by your employer and it is a decision that an employment tribunal has jurisdiction to deal with.
A full list of the types of claims that can be made at an employment tribunal can be found on the Gov.uk website. These include unfair dismissal, equal pay and discrimination claims.
If you feel you have been treated unfairly at work, we recommend you read our range of advice guides first. They cover topics such as:
- unfair, wrongful or constructive dismissal
- health and safety issues
- bullying and harassment
If you are considering a claim to an employment tribunal, please contact us and read the section on RCN support below.
If we decide your case does not meet our criteria for support you can continue, either with or without the help of a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau. If you pursue a claim independently, the RCN will not be responsible for your legal costs.
In addition to the merits criteria, the RCN also operates a minimum value threshold for employment tribunal claims and we will not support those with a value below £1000 net. We can also not support small claims in the civil courts (i.e. valued at £10,000 or less).
.Before pursuing an employment tribunal claim you are legally required to notify ACAS using the ‘early conciliation’ form. Early conciliation is a service provided by ACAS.
Either you or the employer can decline ‘early conciliation’ in which case ACAS will issue a certificate immediately.
If you engage in early conciliation, ACAS will issue a certificate at the end of that process (usually after six weeks). If you submit an employment tribunal claim without an early conciliation certificate your claim will be rejected.
Early conciliation can help resolve various workplace disputes include:
- unfair dismissal
- discrimination complaints redundancy payment disputes
- deductions from wages and unpaid holiday/notice pay claim
- time off difficulties
- equal pay disputes
If you are considering early conciliation please contact us before taking any further action.
If the RCN Legal Services department believes that your potential employment tribunal claim has more than reasonable prospects of success, they will represent you during the early conciliation process. However, if we believe that your potential claim does not have more than reasonable prospects of success, we will not be able to provide you with legal representation and you will have to undertake early conciliation personally or instruct alternative solicitors at your own cost.
If you trigger the early conciliation process prior to seeking the RCN's advice, we will review the merits of your potential complaint and confirm whether it meets our criteria for support. You must not name the RCN as your representative for early conciliation without our knowledge and consent.
Early conciliation has an impact on the calculation of the deadline for presenting an employment tribunal claim and it is your responsibility to be certain of the deadline for presenting your potential claim.
After notifying ACAS you can make a claim to an employment tribunal by completing an ET1 form.
There are strict time limits depending on the type of claim you are making.
Any claims that have more than reasonable prospects of success should be made with the support of the RCN Legal Services department. Please contact us if you are considering making a claim.
Further information on making a claim to an employment tribunal can be found on the Ministry of Justice website.
There are strict time limits on making an employment tribunal claim. These can be tricky to calculate exactly, but in most cases the claim must be lodged with the employment tribunal within three months (less one day) of the relevant event. Time in early conciliation ‘stops the clock’ and if you notify ACAS using the 'early conciliation form' in time, you have up to one calendar month from the date of the Early Conciliation Certificate. There are some exceptions to this. See the government’s information at Gov.uk.
To qualify for a claim of unfair dismissal you must be employed with your current employer for two years. There are certain circumstances where the qualifying period does not apply such as when the unfair dismissal is one of the automatically unfair categories (i.e. in connection to maternity rights, paternity leave, asserting a statutory right, health and safety cases, whistleblowing and trade union activities).
If the time limits are missed then you can still claim for some things such as unpaid wages, notice pay and equal pay in the civil courts in England or Sheriff court (Scotland) where longer limitation periods (up to 6 years in some cases) apply.
If you pursue a claim in the employment tribunal, the proceedings will usually follow the same format:
- preliminary hearing, followed by a
- final hearing
At the final hearing:
- you present your case with the support of your representative, witnesses are called and documentary evidence from both sides is submitted in the form of a trial bundle
- your employer will then present their case, and call their witnesses
- both sides can cross-examine the other’s witnesses
- once the hearing is complete each side will sum up and the Tribunal panel will retire to consider their decision
- a decision is normally announced verbally at the end of the hearing.
The tribunal will decide if your claim is well founded. If they agree they will also decide on the appropriate remedy. In unfair dismissal cases, they may order your employer to re-instate you to your original job or re-engage you in a different job. The tribunal may also award compensation instead of or in addition to re-instatement or re-engagement.
In some situations, you may be permitted to give evidence to an employment tribunal from overseas. Please see the UK government guidance for more information.
England and Wales
The County Court deals with civil cases in England and Wales. Cases are dealt with by a judge. County Courts deal with a wide range of cases including contractual employment claims.
In England and Wales a case will be dealt with in one of three ways depending on the level of claim.
There are three tracks:
- small claims track: for claims of £10,000 or less*.
- fast track: for claims between £10,000 and £25,000.
- multi-track: this is for claims over £25,000.
If you make a claim to the County Court you should consider the following:
- there is a six-year time limit to pursue a breach of contract claim from the date of the breach of contract
- there is no limit to the financial awards for breach of contract
- you can claim interest on the money you are owed.
*Please note, costs are not recoverable for small claims and as such the RCN will not support County Court claims of less that £10,000 (England and Wales) or £3000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Legal aid is not available for small claims.
See Gov.uk for further information on County Courts.
Sheriff courts (Scotland)
The Sheriff court in Scotland can deal with most types of civil cases and cases are dealt with by a Sheriff. A Sheriff is a judge assigned to a specific court. Cases the Sheriff court deals with can include:
- personal injury claims
- some employment issues
- housing problems
- debt problems
- some discrimination cases.
Depending on the amount being claimed, the case will proceed through a designated procedure. The Sheriff may decide to assign the case to the Court of Session.
Points to consider if making a claim to the Sheriff's court:
- there is a five-year time limit to pursue a breach of contract claim from the date of the breach of contract
- legal costs may be recovered if you win subject to certain conditions
- interest may be awarded from the date the sum fell due to be paid.
Go to the Scottish court's website for further information.
County Court (Northern Ireland)
The County Court in Northern Ireland deals with civil cases. The cases are dealt with by a judge or district judge.
The range of cases can include:
- employment problems
- some discrimination cases
- landlord and tenant disputes
- personal injury claims.
The small claims limit involves a claim of no more than £3000. Go to the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service website for further information.
You can make a claim to the small claims court for up to £10,000 in England and Wales and £3000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Mediation is available for small claims and not all claims result in a court hearing. You can also make the Money Claim online.
England and Wales
You should always try to resolve the problem before it goes to court. You will usually have to pay a court fee, and may not win your case or get any monies owed.
The judge can decide that a case cannot be heard as a small claim if it is too complex. If your claim is above the small claims track limit, or a judge decides that you cannot use the small claims court. In those circumstances you will have to use the formal County Court procedure.
If you are considering making a claim for breach of contract, consumer problems or monies outstanding under the small claims procedure, or are defending a claim, please see the guidance at Gov.uk.
There is a different process for court claims in Scotland - please search for 'small claims' on the home page of the Scottish Court Service (SCS) website.
To make a claim in Northern Ireland, please see the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service.
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Page last updated - 27/08/2023