What happens in an Employment Tribunal? | Blog | Paul Doran Law

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What happens in an Employment Tribunal?

Here’s what to expect when you make a claim against your employer and face an employment tribunal.

In advance

Your legal representative will work with you to build your case. They will do most of the talking at the tribunal, but you will probably have to give evidence too – that is, you’ll have the chance to tell your side of the story and respond to questions. Your representative will help you prepare for this.

Alternatively, you may wish to represent yourself. This is quite common, and the tribunals are used to dealing direct with employees. In this case:

If you want, you can bring friends and family along for support. They will have to sit behind you, and must be quiet so they don’t interrupt the hearing.

What to wear

An employment tribunal is a legal hearing, so it’s best to dress accordingly. For example, tracksuit or jeans and trainers would not be appropriate. Neither would black tie or cocktail dress! Smart office-wear is most suitable.

On arrival

The tribunal will probably be held in an office building with individual tribunal rooms.

You should aim to arrive at least 30 minutes before your hearing is due.

First, check in with the tribunal clerk. They will direct you to the claimants’ waiting room (your employer and their representative will use a separate waiting room for respondents).

Before the hearing

It is possible that your employer’s representative will visit the claimants’ waiting room to offer you a ‘last minute settlement’. They might even put pressure on you to withdraw your case.

If you have a representative, they will handle this tricky conversation for you.

If you are representing yourself, try not to be intimidated. Ask the representative to explain anything you don’t understand. Don’t let them bully you.

Think in advance about what settlement you are willing to accept.

If your employer’s representative offers terms that you are happy with, make sure that the tribunal records the details in writing. If your employer fails to pay, this will help you enforce the deal.

Entering the hearing

When the tribunal panel is ready, the clerk will lead you, your representative and any witnesses into the tribunal room.

As the employee, you and your representative sit on the right hand side, facing the panel. Your employer and their representative sit on the left hand side. Witnesses sit at the back, along with friends and family, the general public and any members of the press (this advice applies in England and Wales; it’s not the same in Scotland).

Note that you can’t take food or drink in with you (unless you need them for medical reasons). Don’t chew gum. Remember to turn off your mobile phone.

Usually, there will be three people sitting on the panel:

The panel might be sitting at a slightly raised desk, and will be wearing standard business clothing (not wigs and gowns).

During the hearing

Evidence is given on oath, and there are rules about what happens and who speaks when, but an employment tribunal is slightly less formal than a courtroom.

First, the panel will introduce themselves.

Then the judge will announce which side goes first:

Occasionally, each side will be invited to make an opening statement about their case – however, this doesn’t happen very often.

When it’s your turn

You will be called to the witness table. If you are religious, you will be sworn in. If not, you will be asked to affirm.

You will then be invited to sit down and give your name for the record.

The panel might already have read your witness statement in private. If not, you will be asked to read it out loud.

Any documents you need to refer to will be on the table in front of you.

The judge, your employer or their representative will ask you questions (this is called cross-examination). This can feel difficult, because your employer is trying to prove you wrong.

What’s more, your employer’s representative might try to intimidate you. This is a common tactic, so don’t feel scared or daunted. Keep calm, and take your time. If you’re really unhappy about how you’re being treated, tell the judge.

Your own representative might also ask you questions (this is called re-examination).

If someone says something you don’t understand, it’s OK to ask them to explain.

Just answer all the questions honestly. It’s not a memory test, so it’s OK to admit if you don’t know or can’t remember.

Direct your answers to the judge, and address the members of the panel as Sir or Madam.

In addition to your witness statement, your answers form your ‘evidence in chief’.

If there is a break or lunch while you are giving evidence, note that you are still under oath, so you are not allowed to speak to your representative or any of the other witnesses.

When it’s your employer’s turn

Witnesses for your employer will read out their statements. Listen carefully, and note any extra questions that may arise.

Your representative will then ask them questions (cross-examination).

If you want to communicate with your representative, pass them a written note.

If you don’t have a representative, the judge will ask whether you have any questions for the witnesses.

You should question anything that you don’t agree with, anything that seems unclear, and any differences between what the witnesses say and what the documents say.

Where there are differences, ask one witness to confirm clearly whether what they have said is true, and to comment on the evidence that differs. You don’t have to get the witness to admit they are wrong – you are trying to show evidence that backs up your case.

Even if you feel angry, don’t be rude or aggressive towards your employer or their witnesses, as this might damage your case.

After the evidence has been heard

Usually, the tribunal will ask if you’d like to make any final comments (these are called ‘closing submissions’). This is your chance to sum up the evidence and explain why you think you should win.

Don’t try to make complicated legal points. Just present the relevant facts as clearly as possible.

This is usually done verbally. The tribunal will tell you if they want the closing submissions in writing.

What happens next

The tribunal panel will make their decision. Sometimes, they leave the room and tell you their decision when they come back. If they need more time, they will make their decision later and send it to you in writing.

Employment legislation and rules are incredibly complex. Although you are fully entitled to run your own claim, legal representation reduces the stress and increases your chance of success. If we are representing you, we’ll hold your hand every step of the way.

Need help?

For a FREE assessment of your claim, call 0808 168 7288 or fill in the contact form on the top right of this page.

We have already helped thousands of people to win millions of pounds in compensation.

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