Are you are taking your employer to court? I want to make you help win your tribunal. I want you to know what to expect in a tribunal, the mistakes to avoid, and of course, what happens in a tribunal.
Disclaimer: This is based on my experience and research. What I offer are my guidance and perspective. I stress THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE
What this article is going to do is the following:
I am going to tell you what I went through, how the procedure occurs, what to expect, and I am going to make sure you are fully armed and do not focus on things that will not help you, and make sure you DO focus on the things that will. I will also describe the chain of occurrences so you know for sure whether your claim is being dealt with or not.
This is very much an article for the employee, but at the same time, it is not a guide to fleecing. I am not trying to “Stick it to the man.” I want to help people who deserve it. So if you are here to find how you can stitch up your company for a few quid, or to see where the glitches in the laws are for you to manipulate, you came to the wrong place. So perhaps that is where we should start:
Before I go any further I am going to start using the terms that you need to get used to
Claimant = You, the employee. The party bringing the grievance to the table
Respondent = Your employer. The party who is having a case brought against them
Do you have a case?
This is hard to answer. A quick way to find out is whether or not your contract covers it. If it doesn't, then you have a chance. You could try CAB but be sat on hold for three hours to be told to find a solicitor. Truth is, you should know. Feel free to contact us if you need any guidance, but be prepared that guidance is all it is. The best option is to apply for early conciliation
SECTION 1: EARLY CONCILIATION
1.1: What is early conciliation?
Early conciliation is a process by which the issue you have raised will be put to the respondent. This will be done in a nonpartisan way. In other words, you will receive no advice on anything other than the procedure, and the same goes for your employer.
This is done by an organisation called ACAS. That is the Advice, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service. See below link to the first stage.
Another important rule to this document I should stress at this stage:
THIS IS FOR PEOPLE REPRESENTING THEMSELVES. IF YOU HAVE A SOLICITOR, THEY WILL DO ALL OF THIS FOR YOU.
1.2: You must approach ACAS and inform them if you intend to raise a grievance to a tribunal. ACAS are NOT the Tribunal people. They will not be heard or spoken to in the tribunal process. Early conciliation is where they will put the case to the respondent to give them a chance to resolve it without a court date. However, I must stress they WILL NOT advise. So even if the respondent is totally and obviously in the wrong, they will not advise. They will not say “You will lose” or “You will win” to either of you.
Make sure you do this within three months of the incident you are filing for. If it is more than three months – there is no further action available. Sorry. So do not dither.
But do not, in all the panic, forget this: ACAS is most definitely your friend. Why is ACAS your friend?
They do it all for free
MOST IMPORTANT They provide the certificate that allows you to go to the tribunal
So do not ask them whether they think you have a case or not. That is an awkward and unethical nightmare for them. Do not ask them to risk their jobs. I stress heavily, ACAS is very much the good guy in this. Do NOT make them regret that. If you say they have treated you unfairly, then you have done something wrong. NICELY PUT FULLY SUPPORTS AND ACKNOWLEDGES ACAS.
So let us get back to the last point. The certificate. With the number you get, you fill the document in on the ET1 and make your claim to the tribunal.
YOU MUST DO THIS WITHIN ONE MONTH OF RECEIVING YOUR CERTIFICATE
When filling out the claim, it is vital you give every single detail. Do NOT presume you will remember something. Put it in at the start. Bear in mind that in your original claim you cannot provide attachments. This is where I made an error. DO NOT WORRY. You will get a chance to send it. However, if you do have documents to back up your case, make sure to mention them in your claim and details.
Then you will be notified of the tribunal accepting your case. Oddly enough this happened by post. Everything else was email, except this.
So then you wait.
And you wait
Finally, you get a date. This is where you must jump back on your game. Get all your documentation in order. You will have a list of what you can send and when. Get your witness statements in order. Now pay attention because the next point is VERY important.
SECTION 2: PREPARING YOUR CASE
YOUR WITNESS STATEMENT AND YOUR CLAIM ARE DIFFERENT
This is crucial to understand when it comes to the hearing, Your witness statement is the chance to give your version of the events, your version of what happened, and to include the details you either left off the claim or wish to underline. However, if you just repeat your claim, you WILL be silenced by the judge. So make your statement fresh. If you have to repeat something already said, say it in a new way.
Also, this is the time for the documents I mentioned. If you have a section of your contract you wish to be seen, save it as a screenshot and send it in, any correspondence, anything you have seen on the Gov website that proves you are right (although be careful there. If you are wrong it may cost you points with a judge), any documents adding weight to your case or your position, get them in.
Print off all copies of all documents. Get a highlighter and highlight the sections that pertain to your case. For example, if you have a letter from your employer that helps prove your case, highlight the sections of the letter that count. It gives you easy access and swift delivery on the day. Believe me, rapid, clear, and accurate answers are the best weapon you can possess.
So you are now prepared. You have emailed back all the documents. All that it takes now is to go to court.
SECTION 3: THE HEARING
3.1 Going to your tribunal
Should I go myself?
I wondered if I really needed to attend. I was anxious and nervous. I wondered if it would go against me if I did not attend. Yet nowhere could I find an answer? I now know the answer. It is a resounding and bloodcurdling YES
Mine was virtual, but that makes no difference. So virtual or in presence, here are some guides:
Fifteen minutes early. Lateness is inexcusable. No reason will suffice. Come up four hours early and wait in Mcdonalds if you must. Two years of planning could be ruined by a lie-in
Smart casual. Do not dress to impress, but do not dress to go on a long-haul flight either.
You are in front of a judge. Show some respect. They may not look like a judge from TV but they are as qualified. Address them as “your honour” and do not EVER interrupt or sass.
3.2: What happens
You are greeted by the usher. The procedure will begin much as you expect. The judge will outline the case and how the law applies. They will then ask the claimant (you) any questions needed to help understand the case.
You will be sworn in. Just as a criminal court. If it is virtual then I wish to make this very clear DO NOT HAVE ANYONE IN THE ROOM. There is no grey area here. You may get a warning. You will not get two.
Have all your documents in order and highlighted. Chances are you WILL be referring to them. This leads on to
3.3:Claimant Giving Evidence
As I said. Be organised. The judge is going to ask you formal questions to establish how the case works according to the law. So remember the following:
NO OPINIONS· NO DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS AGAINST YOUR EMPLOYER NO DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS AGAINST YOU (they will not find it cute or funny)
Make your answers short, sharp, concise, polite, and most of all, something you can back up.
Again, Remember he/she (the judge) is “your honour”
(If in virtual) look at where your webcam is. This way you cannot be intimidated and you will appear to be looking everyone in the eye which is a plus for sincerity
Make no mistake about it THIS IS YOUR CHANCE.
The judge will be reading from, and questioning your WITNESS STATEMENT and NOT your CLAIM. This is a vital distinction to make. Refer to previous notes regarding this (SECTION 2)
They do not want to hear about little Timmy’s birthday and how you could not buy presents or how you could not feed your cat. Sentimental heart-string stuff does not wash so do not try it, whether it is true or not.
They DO want to hear about defined circumstances. If the amount owed caused you to be evicted that month and you can show evidence on paper, show that. It goes back to the truth thing. Before you claim for it, ask yourself if it is genuine or if you are playing the game. They are better at the game than you, and they will win, but what’s worse: You will lose.
As always, keep documents, show evidence. If you defaulted on your mortgage the month the money you are claiming for was due, and you can show, via bank statements and invoices, that this is directly the reason-i.e if you HAD the money, you would not have defaulted then do so. If it is four months down the line, Do not waste your time, it will annoy the court
They will NOT let you claim from travel/time expenses for the appearance
The judge will know you are not Petrocelli. They are not expecting a seasoned lawyer. If you get flustered, take time, breathe (see below the 4-7-8 method) and apologise to the court, remembering to address properly, and continue.
DO NOT take the above idea and convert it to a sympathy act. Try and play the country bumpkin confused at wearing buttoned clothes for the first time, and they will see it. You are not an actor, but they ARE a judge. Try and con them at your peril
Here comes the bad news: Your ex-employer now gets the chance to question you and any witnesses you have presented
3.4: THE CROSS-EXAMINATION (by the Respondent)
This is done by the respondent or the respondent's legal team. As I am doing a guide for those without legal representation, I will use the same example for both sides. This is as if the respondent is also representing themselves.
This may frighten you. Do not allow it to. Remember: The judge is there. They will not tolerate intimidation. The person may only ask you questions regarding your statement and they WILL only be allowed to do it respectfully.
Do NOT get nasty. Regardless of how vile they have treated you, see the previous point: Sharp, polite, factual, and swift answers.
Do not get personal or angry. Slip a few compliments in there: e.g “During July I was kindly allowed by my employers, to take a week off.” It may sting but will stand you in very good stead.
3.5: The Respondents Witnesses
Just as you did, the respondent will bring witnesses be that themselves or other members of staff.
Once again, do not be bewildered. Only factual and passive testimony will be tolerated.
As they talk, make notes, anything piques your interest then you scribble it down. If you think of a question to ask-write it down, you may expect to remember, trust me, you won’t
If they have wheeled four or five to say the same, do not worry, the judge will only ask if they have anything new, if not, they will not hear repeat testimony.
Now it is your turn….
3.6: Cross-Examination (by the claimant)
Now you get your opportunity to call any witnesses to clarify or explain their testimony (this will be offered to you after each witness appears)
Take advantage of it. It is your last chance to ask a question
Polite, clear, concise. Remember to look at the camera/person. Address respectfully.
If (as I did) you get a snide comment from a respondent witness say nothing at all. Allow the judge to reprimand
Make statements into questions. Much easier to renege if necessary when you have left room for discussion: eg: rather than “Well that is wrong” you could say: “Do you not feel that is wrong?”
Do not, ever, under ANY circumstances, get personal, make private jokes, or slip in a silky threat. You may be dealing with an ex-boss who could be the biggest scumbag alive, but DO NOT hand him a victory by appearing to intimidate.
Remember, there are some cases where it is cut and dry by the law, but somewhere a judge will rule based on opinion. On that day, you want to be sure your behaviour has only been a plus point and hope that the respondent has not. However, you can only control your side, Focus on you, let the judge focus on the others.
3.7: Closing statements:
Just what they say they are. Claimant will go first, respondent second. There are no questions, no second chance. A good idea is to have it written already. Write down, in clear but maybe a little less formal language, what you are claiming for, and why you think you should win. Thank the court at the end. You will always wish you had said something else when you hear the respondents' statement, this is natural. Do not dwell on it, the chances of anything being affected by either statement are small.
SECTION 4: VERDICT & AFTERMATH
Once all witnesses and closing statements are done the judge will read the verdict. (for more complex cases it may take longer) It will be preceded by an explanation of how they came to the decision and then details of costs, rules of repayment, and possible interest.
An amusing end to mine was the judges’ microphone failed. She was talking and talking and we were trying to get her attention and couldn’t. The usher ended up running in and she had to start all over again. She had all but said I had won but I needed the words. I got them and it was glorious.
4.1: If I win, what happens then?
You will be sent a written judgement within two weeks. Payment must be made within a designated timeframe. The loser has a chance to have the verdict reconsidered or to appeal.
It is important that people who think they can get away with exploiting workers and fiddling them, do not do so. My ex-employers were taken to tribunal more times than I care to mention, and they lost, at great cost to them, but on one occasion there were twelve people made redundant in an illegal fashion, only eight followed through because the others did not want the trouble. But they should, if it is wrong and illegal, the courts will come down on your side.
As I said, I am no lawyer but if anyone reading this needs to ask me anything to help in their involvement, please get in touch.
I wish you all get to experience the high and joy I did that day. However, if you do not have time to read all of this I have it covered. See below my quick guide 7 golden rules
Get on with it!
You only have three months from the incident in question to make your claim. After that it is chalked up to history. So don't dither!
Breathing exercises: Laugh all you want but I did them and swear by it. The relief is instant and you can do it so easily: As follows
Breathe in through the nose – for 4 seconds
Hold Breath – 7 Seconds
Breath out through the mouth- For 8 seconds
Repeat as many times as you can. The relief is instant but short lived. It increases the oxygen which acts as a relaxant.
Confusion is your Enemy
Have ALL facts written down and at hand. Even the most innocuous ones. Not using them doesn’t matter. Needing them and not having them does
Rome was not Built in a Long Time
You may have to wait a year. You WILL get a date. Do not, as I often wondered, give up. They WILL give you a date
Document is Paramount
Send in the required documents when they say. Do not get to the day and find they do not have a copy of your contract. The tribunal date will include all instructions. Failing that, ask me!
Virtual is Reality
Do NOT think that just because it’s a video hearing it is any less formal. Make preparations, dress smart, get your area in order. You WILL regret not doing so
The Night Before is Way too Late
Good luck, people.