Tribunal Tribulations: What Happens When a Claim is Issued in the Employment Tribunal?
It is a situation which many employers find familiar: you’ve had an issue with an employee, received a call from an Acas conciliator and then everything goes quiet after the conciliation period ends. After thinking that’s the end of the matter, a Tribunal claim arrives in the post leaving you scrambling to figure out what needs to happen next.
The first important point to note is that an employee will usually have three months from the date of the incident relied upon to start the Acas process. They will then have more time to issue the claim in the Tribunal – at least a further month from the date on which the conciliation process concludes.
Crucially, an employer will have 28 days from the date on which the claim is sent out to respond to the claim. This is not 28 days from the date you receive the claim, but from when the Tribunal processes and sends out the paperwork. Employers will therefore have slightly less than 28 days to get their response in to the Tribunal, and the specific deadline will be set out in the Tribunal ’s correspondence.
It is of the utmost importance that you respond to the claim in time as if you ignore this and take no action, a Tribunal will likely issue a judgment against you in default.
Given the current Tribunal backlogs, it is now common for Tribunals to immediately list the case for a hearing date, so employers will usually also receive a document called Notice of Hearing at the same time they receive the claim. This will identify where the hearing will take place, whether it is in person or online and on what days the hearing will take place.
Included in the Tribunal paperwork will be a critically important document listing case management directions which set out the steps the parties must take in preparation for the hearing, and the dates by which these must be completed. Employers’ tasks will include compiling and exchanging evidence, creating the hearing bundle and drafting witness statements of relevant individuals. The deadlines for each step are not set in stone, however, and can be amended if the other party agrees.
If a more complex claim such as discrimination or whistleblowing is being brought, then the Tribunal will also list a preliminary hearing. Where both parties are represented, this will usually take place via telephone or videocall, but attending in person is also possible. This will take place a number of months before the final hearing and the purpose of this is to deal with case management and confirm whether the listed hearing dates will be sufficient.
The key take away from all of this is that if you find yourself landed with a Tribunal claim then you should seek legal advice immediately and avoid sitting on the paperwork without taking action. There is a significant amount of work involved in dealing with a Tribunal claim, and the quicker you have a handle on matters the better.
Author: Jonothan Scollen, Employment Law Solicitor at Howarths