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Employment tribunals and the courts

This guide for RCN members covers employment tribunals, County Court, the Sheriffs Court (Scotland) and the small claims procedure.

Claim types

A full list of the types of claims that can be made at an employment tribunal can be found on the Ministry of Justice website. These include unfair dismissal, equal pay and discrimination claims.

If you are considering a claim to an employment tribunal, please call us and read the section on RCN support below.

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Early conciliation

Before lodging an employment tribunal claim, all claimants will need to notify ACAS and conciliation will be offered. If conciliation is unsuccessful, the claimant can proceed to lodge a tribunal claim.  The length of the conciliation period will have an impact on the deadline for presenting an employment tribunal claim. For further advice, please contact us. Early conciliation can help to resolve the majority of workplace disputes including:

Please see the ACAS guidance on early conciliation.

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How to make a 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.

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Time limits

There are strict time limits on making an employment tribunal claim. In most cases the claim must be lodged with the employment tribunal within three months (less one day) of the relevant event (subject to the impact of the early conciliation period as above). There are some exceptions to this. See the government’s information at

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 may wish to consider taking your claim to a county court or Sheriff court (Scotland).

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Tribunal costs

A Supreme Court ruling on 26 July 2017 made fees for those bringing employment tribunal claims unlawful. Citizens Advice have some helpful guidance on this topic, particularly if you paid fees to bring a claim between July 2013 and July 2017.

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Procedures and judgement

Should you take a case to an employment tribunal, the proceedings will usually follow the same format:

  • pre-hearing review
  • final hearing.

At the final hearing:

  • you will present your case with the support of your representative, witnesses may be called and documentary evidence from both sides will be submitted 
  • 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 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.

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RCN support

We will support you at an employment tribunal if you are in membership at the time of the incident and your claim is deemed to have a reasonable chance of success i.e. more than 51%. This decision will be made by the RCN Legal Services department. Please contact us so that we can discuss the issue with you.

If we decide not to take your case you can continue, either with or without the help of a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau. In this situation we are unable to assist with the costs of using external solicitors.

The RCN does not take on small claims cases.

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County court

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 problems. 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 - this is for claims of £10,000 or less. 
  • fast track - this is 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 bring a claim from date of breach of contract 
  • there is no limit to the financial awards for breach of contract 
  • interest is awarded from the date of judgment.

Legal aid is not available for small claims and we will not support these claims. Please see 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 go through a designed procedure. The Sheriff may decide to assign the case to the Court of Session.

Points to consider if making a claim to the Sheriffs court:

  • there is a five year time limit to bring claim from date of 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, i.e. the date of the injury.

Go to the Scottish courts 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. For small claim cases the case will involve a claim of no more than £3000.

Go to the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service website for further information.

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Small claims procedure

You can make a claim to the small claims court for up to £10,000 in England and Wales and £3,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Small claims courts allow certain types of claims to be decided informally by court, usually without the need for a solicitor or barrister. Not all claims result in a court hearing and you can make a money claim online.

England and Wales

You should always try to resolve the problem before it goes to court, but if this proves impossible and you wish to make a claim you will be referred to a mediation service. 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, you will have to use the full county court.

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


There is a different process for court claims in Scotland please use the search term 'small claims' on the home page of the Scottish Court Service (SCS) website.

Northern Ireland

To make a claim in Northern Ireland, please see the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service.

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Call the RCN on: 03457726100

Page last updated - 25/01/2018