What is an employment tribunal?


You may have heard of employment tribunals but probably have not experienced attending one before. You can make a claim to an employment tribunal if you think your school or academy trust has discriminated against you or have been treated unlawfully.

In this article we outline what employment tribunals are, how you can make a claim to a tribunal and what to expect if you attend one.

What is an employment tribunal?

Employment tribunals enables an employee to take their employer to an independent legal hearing. The tribunal will hear disputes about employment matters such as:

  • Unfair dismissal
  • Discrimination
  • Unfair deductions from your pay
  • Constructive dismissal
  • Redundancy payments

Employment tribunals are held in office buildings and the hearings are in individual tribunal rooms. Evidence will be taken on oath and there are set procedures to follow. The environment is less formal than a court, hearings are open to the public and the employment judge does not wear a wig or gown.

Edapt will be able to support you every step of the way through the employment tribunal process and we highly recommend contacting us before your case reaches the employment tribunal stage.

Can I make a claim to an employment tribunal?

You must notify the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) of your intention to make a claim to the tribunal. You’ll be offered the chance to try and settle the dispute without going to court by using ACAS’S free ‘early conciliation’ service.

Edapt has another article which outlines details about the early conciliation service.

Resolving a dispute through early conciliation can be faster, cheaper and less stressful than going to a tribunal. You will get a certificate from ACAS if early conciliation does not work. This can be used when you make a claim to the tribunal. Edapt recommends contacting ACAS if you have any questions about this process.

You can make a claim to an employment tribunal online. This can be completed on the GOV.UK website.

What happens after I make a claim?

The respondent (employer) usually has to reply to your claim in writing within 28 days of getting your claim form. They will give their side of the case. Once they’ve replied, the tribunal will decide whether there will be a full hearing to decide on your case. If they don’t reply, the tribunal may decide on your case without you having to go to a hearing.

Preliminary hearing

You may be asked to go to an initial hearing (called a preliminary hearing) with the judge to decide on things like:

  • Whether part or all of your claim can go ahead
  • The date and time of a hearing
  • How long the hearing should take

Gathering documents

You can ask the respondent for documents that will help you with your case, and they can request documents from you. Examples of documents include:

  • A contract of employment
  • Pay slips
  • Details of your pension scheme
  • Notes from relevant meetings you attended at work

Usually the tribunal will issue an order setting out a timetable for when you should exchange documents. You will be sent a letter telling you how many copies of each document to bring to the hearing.

What happens during a tribunal?

You will present your case to the tribunal – someone else can do this for you, for example, a representative, friend or family member. The respondent will present their case against you.

You’ll normally give evidence first, unless your case is about unfair dismissal. You can also call witnesses to give evidence.

You will usually be asked questions by:

  • The judge
  • The respondent
  • Two other tribunal members (only in certain cases)

You may give evidence by reading a prepared written statement. The school or their representative can then ask you or your witness questions. Finally, the employment judge may ask some questions. The same procedure is then usually followed in respect of the other witnesses and then with the respondent. Once all the evidence has been heard, the employment judge will usually announce the judgment and give reasons for it.

The tribunal will decide whether your claim succeeds or fails and if it succeeds what should be awarded to you.

Where can I find out more information about employment tribunals?

Edapt will be able to offer advice and support if you are thinking of putting in a claim for an employment tribunal.

Citizens Advice has also produced additional information outlining the process at employment tribunals.

Was this article helpful?

The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.