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Introduction: A Case Study
This case study portrays a situation wherein Stewart (employee) was dismissed by John (employer) on the grounds of compulsory retirement. John claimed that Stewart was not performing optimally due to his age. There was no evidence to support this statement, thus Stewart has decided to take John to court for unfair dismissal. Before Stewart can do this he must understand the roles and responsibilities of an employment tribunal as well as differentiating between an employment tribunal and the ordinary courts of law.
The above aspects will be analysed and explained in order to gain an understanding of the fundamentals of an employment tribunal.
What Is an Employment Tribunal?
Firstly, what is an employment tribunal? It is a public body situated in countries in the United Kingdom with the authority to listen to, judge, and provide a decision regarding claims and disputes between employers and employees. They have statutory jurisdiction to make a judgement on various employment-related disputes.
The most common disputes brought before the tribunal are related to unfair dismissals, redundancy payments and terms, and employment discrimination. The employment tribunals are a member of the UK Tribunals System, overseen by the tribunals service and regulated by the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council.
Roles of the Tribunal
The roles of the employment tribunal are manifold. The primary role, in a broad sense, of the employment tribunal is to resolve any disputes that arise between employers and employees in the business and workplace. The need for equality in employment and in the workplace is the main reason employment tribunals were established in the UK.
On a more specified basis, the role of employment tribunals is to hear and make decisions on disputes regarding the following:
- unfair dismissal claims
- wrongful dismissal claims
- discrimination claims
- equal pay claims
- deduction claims
- redundancy claims
- breaches of contract
- unfair working hour claims
- statutory holiday entitlement
- underpayment of minimum wages
- breach of Agency Workers Regulations
- refusal of employment based on trade union membership
- part-time discriminatory claims
- public duty and trade union refusal
- other related contractual disputes
Roles: Discrimination Claims
A major role of employment tribunals is to deal with discrimination claims. Many people consider this a small issue however the evidence suggests the opposite. Discrimination claims matter a great deal to those who were victims of unlawful discrimination and to those of whom allegations of discrimination have been made, and society as a whole.
The importance of discrimination claims was highlighted by Lord Steyn in the case, ‘Anyanwu vs South Banks Students Union (2001)’. An increasingly popular discriminatory claim is that of dismissals based on pregnancy. A common example is when a woman informs her employer of her pregnancy and receives a notice the next day of being dismissed on the grounds of redundancy.
Additionally, the role of employment tribunals is simply their presence. The fact that there is an authoritative body regulating employment laws means that employers have grown fearful of being fined and sued. Their role is to ensure that this awareness remains in an employer’s mind. This will ensure that employers make an effort to reduce discrimination and unlawful dismissals of employees. The manner by which employment tribunals can guarantee this is by considering each case as a serious matter.
This leads to the responsibilities of employment tribunals. It is their duty to treat each case on an individual basis without any bias. They should make decisions based on evidence provided by each party (employer and employee). Their judgement are law binding agreements, thus their decisions should be made based on statutory minimums, established laws, and precedent cases.
Employment tribunals are responsible for selecting and appointing a diverse and objective panel of 3 members, one of which must be a qualified employment judge. The panel as a whole should not have any personal, financial and sentimental affiliations to either party involved in the claim. Examples of these responsibilities being carried out can be seen in the cases, ‘Igen Ltd vs Wong (2005) and D’Silva vs NATFHE (2008)’.
Responsibilities: Types of Hearings
Employment Tribunals are responsible for holding the actual hearings that will involve the claimant and defendant. It is their obligation to oversee and, guide and regulate the hearings. There are three types of hearings that can be held by Employment Tribunals.
- The first type is a case management discussion, which is a short hearing wherein the relevant parties discuss the areas of concern so that the full hearing may proceed smoothly. An example of a discussion could be the type of evidence that needs to be produced.
- The second type of hearing held by employment tribunals is a pre-hearing review. This hearing is for clarification of issues. An example could be determining whether or not the employee was an employee at the time and if they are entitled to make a claim.
- The third type of hearing is the full hearing wherein all evidence is produced in front of a recognized court of law.
Since 2013 the first two hearings have been combined and are now called the preliminary hearing. The responsibility of the employment tribunal is to ensure that these hearings proceed in a legal, unbiased and objective manner.
Employment Tribunal vs. Ordinary Courts of Law
It is important to note that employment tribunals differ from ordinary courts of law in many ways. An employment tribunal is much less formal, less expensive, and a significantly faster way to resolve employment disputes. (Adminlawbc.ca, 2016) Tribunal members often have specialized knowledge in contractual and employment related laws whereas an ordinary court judge has a general knowledge of all the laws. The majority of contractual disputes are adjudicated by the ordinary courts of law (High Court in England) however specialized disputes can be resolved in an employment tribunal.
There are many employment rights that do not appear in contracts and these can only be enforced and regulated by employment tribunals and not ordinary courts of law. Ordinary courts of law typically deal with disputes relating to; accidents at work, severance pay, wrongful dismissals, restrictive covenants and mores serious issues such as forced sexual relations by employers on employees which may hold criminal charges. These disputes cannot be solved by an employment tribunal.
In conclusion, the above information has clearly defined the roles and responsibilities of employment tribunals. A clear distinction has been made regarding differences between employment tribunals and ordinary courts of law. In reference to Stewart’s case, an employment tribunal would be the best option for him. It will be less costly and more specialized to his needs. If the issue is not resolved he may appeal it in the employment tribunals appeal court and if it is still not resolved, then the High Court may be his only option.
Below you will find a video of the full process of a mock employment tribunal. This video covers the entire process and includes all the important parties.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 Yaseen Essack