If you've been affected by a problem at work such as unfair dismissal, discrimination or redundancy and have been treated unlawfully, you may be considering making a claim to an employment tribunal.

According to Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) an employment tribunal is an independent judicial body established to resolve disputes between employers and employees over employment rights.

Before you make a claim

You must tell Acas before you start an employment tribunal claim. Once you do this, Acas will offer you their free early conciliation service. This means an independent, impartial Acas Conciliator will try to help you settle your dispute before you go to the tribunal. Even if you don't reach an agreement, you'll need your Acas early conciliation certificate number before you can take your case to the tribunal.

Meanwhile, whether or not you're entitled to make an employment tribunal claim will depend on when the problem or event happened. Usually you have to make your claim within 3 months. Using the Acas conciliation service won't affect the time you have remaining to make your claim.

It's advisable to get as much legal help and advice as you can before you make your claim. If you belong to a trade union, it should be able to give you advice or sometimes even pay for your legal costs. You can also get help from your local Citizens Advice Bureau (or Citizens Advice Scotland). On the other hand, depending on your problem, you may think it's worth consulting a solicitor.

How to make a claim

Since July 2017, it doesn't cost anything to make an employment tribunal claim. You can make the actual claim online, and once your employer has replied to your claim in writing the tribunal will decide if there's to be a full hearing (your employer - the respondent - usually has to reply within 28 days of receiving your claim form). If the tribunal decides your case will be heard, there are several things you should do to prepare.

If you've been assigned a representative - such as someone from your trade union or from a Citizens Advice Bureau or another advice agency - they will do most of the work in preparing your case for you.

But if you don't have a representative, an adviser - again this can be someone from a Citizens Advice Bureau - may be able to help you with some of the preparation. But either way you will have to do some preparation yourself, including making sure you have all the relevant paperwork to support your case. This includes the following:

Preparation

  • Your witness statement - a written statement you compose beforehand that you read at the hearing. Your representative or adviser can help you to prepare it. Your employer or their representative should receive your witness statement before the hearing - and you should receive theirs (the tribunal will let you know when witness statements should be exchanged)
  • Any notes you've written yourself about the problem or event that happened, including notes from meetings you attended that may be relevant
  • Notes, emails, letters and texts about the problem from other people you work with, including those from your employer
  • Details of your work pension scheme
  • Your employment contract and any other documents such as pay slips, or anything else that concerns your employment (even things you may not think are important)

Once you have all the paperwork gathered together, show everything to your adviser or representative. Try to keep everything in order - usually in date order - as a tribunal can generate a lot of preparation paperwork, and you may have problems finding everything you need, when you need it, unless you're organised.

Presenting witnesses

People - typically work colleagues - who can give evidence on your behalf that relates directly to your case can also attend and speak at your tribunal. This usually involves them reading out a witness statement that they prepare beforehand. Character witnesses aren't helpful, as the tribunal needs to hear about what happened, not what sort of a person you are.

Attending an employment tribunal for a work colleague can often be problematic for witnesses, as they may not want to risk annoying their employer if they still work for them. This means people are often reluctant to attend someone else's employment tribunal. If you think 1 or more of your witnesses might get cold feet before the hearing, you can ask the tribunal to order them to come. To do so, you should apply in writing to the tribunal office - ask your representative or adviser for more details on what you should do.

Meanwhile if you don't have any witnesses, it doesn't mean you'll automatically lose your case, even if your employer has many witnesses to support their side of the story. Indeed, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau, many people win their case without any witnesses.

How CABA can help

If you need legal advice you can call our 24-hour legal helpline on +44 (0) 1788 556 366 whenever you need help with legal matters, including those that relate to employment (UK only).