Employment Tribunals

Shutterstock 133281176An employment tribunal serves as a last resort dispute resolution service to settle any disputes between employee and employer (or ex-employee and ex-employer). 

But whilst perhaps the best way to settle otherwise unresolvable disputes, such disputes may only be taken to an employment tribunal once all internal resolution procedures have been exhausted. After going through all internal procedure, the dispute must pass through ACAS or some other similar body. If like the internal measures this fails to lead to any resolution or reconciliation then the dispute is ready to be taken to an employment tribunal. 

What kinds of claim can be heard by an employment tribunal?

The following types of claim may be taken to an employment tribunal:

  • Unfair or constructive dismissal
  • Discrimination of any kind
  • Being refused accompaniment during a grievance/disciplinary hearing
  • Breach of contract
  • Lack of consultation in a situation of redundancy
  • Issues relating to equal pay

All claims of these types can be heard, but must be taken to the tribunal within three months of the complaint/dismissal.

How does an employment tribunal work?

An employment tribunal is presided over by an impartial panel of three; an employment law judge, and two experts, experienced in matters of employment law. The claimant also has the right to an employment law solicitor if they require one, to guide them and help put forward and argue their case. As with a normal court of law, any evidence given in an employment tribunal is given under oath and as such any lie is considered perjury.

The tribunal will settle whatever dispute is taken there, and if the final ruling is in favour of the claimant (i.e. the employee), then said claimant will either receive appropriate monetary compensation, or the right to re-employment with the employer in question. This can be either reinstatement in their original position or what is called 'engagement', whereby a different job is awarded with the same employer.

Compensation amounts

There are two different types of compensation that an employment tribunal can award if the ruling is in favour of the employee. These are the basic award and the compensatory award.

The basic award

The basic award is similar to redundancy pay, in as much as it is a fixed amount determined by a set calculation dependent on the employee's gross weekly wage, at a maximum of £430 per week. This amount is multiplied by the amount of time since the initial complaint.

Note that an employee who has received redundancy pay already is not entitled to any basic award compensation.

Compensatory award

The purpose of the compensatory award is to, as the name would suggest, compensate any losses incurred because of the issue in question. It is more difficult to calculate and quantify than the basic award, though there is still a maximum amount, set at £72,300. This maximum however, can be exceeded in what the tribunal deems to be extraordinary circumstances.

The compensatory award is calculated according to the following factors:

  • Actual loss: fairly self-explanatory, this accounts for any losses incurred directly because of the dispute at hand; any money that would have been earned had the employee continued working and earning during the period of dispute.
  • Estimated future loss: this accounts for employees who have lost their job and have not been able to find a new one (at this point). Any money that the employee will likely lose in the future as a result of this is compensated, with the amount also being dependent on the speed with which said employee does find new work. 
  • Loss of the statutory right to not be dismissed: the only factor that remains relatively constant, this factor compensates any dismissed employee for the violation of one of their statutory rights.
  • Other expenses: Again, relatively self-explanatory, this counts for any smaller expenses incurred by the employee during their search for new work.

Employment tribunal costs

It is free to take a dispute to an employment tribunal but hiring an employment law solicitor will cost extra. 

It is important to note here that legal aid is not offered to anyone taking a case to an employment tribunal. However, trade unions often offer support, including paying the cost of a solicitor; and if your case is one of discrimination, then the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) might also offer you financial support. 

Occasionally, an employment tribunal will rule that one (or both) of the parties in question must pay legal costs for the case, despite there being no fees in the first place. This generally happens only when one party has acted in a contentious manner, acting unreasonably during the hearing, or if, for example, the employee is seen as bringing a clearly contrived case to the tribunal. 


An alternative method of settling disputes is to hire an arbitrator, someone independent and impartial who will decide the outcome of the dispute based on evidence presented by both parties. For further information check our guide on Arbitration.

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