Employment-related tribunals

Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal deal with legal disputes to do with work. Industrial Tribunals hear nearly all cases involving employment disputes. The Fair Employment Tribunal hears cases to do with unlawful political or religious discrimination.

Taking a case to a tribunal

Taking a case to tribunal is not always the best way of dealing with a dispute. It's usually a good idea for you to try to sort out problems at work through discussion with colleagues and management.

If an informal discussion doesn’t resolve the issue or isn’t practical, it is important for you to follow the employer’s grievance and disciplinary procedures. A tribunal can take account what happens during these processes in deciding a case.

In many situations, outside advice from organisations such as the Labour Relations Agency may help. The LRA also offers a free and confidential conciliation service prior to submitting a claim to a tribunal (and indeed after a claim has been submitted).

In considering whether to take a case to an Industrial Tribunal or the Fair Employment Tribunal, it is important to check that the tribunal has power to deal with the issue and ensure that a claim is sent to the tribunal within the appropriate time limit.

What Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal do

Both types of tribunal work in much the same way. They're less formal than some other courts, but you still give evidence on oath and if you do not tell the truth you can be accused of perjury.

If you have made an application to an Industrial Tribunal or Fair Employment Tribunal then you will have a hearing. At the hearing a Tribunal panel will review the facts of your case and decide an outcome called a 'judgment'.

Cases are usually heard by a panel of three people - a legally qualified chairperson, and two 'lay members', one with an employer background and one with an employee background. The lay members use their employment experience in judging the facts. In some circumstances, the chairperson will sit on their own when hearing any legal arguments for example.

There is no charge for making a claim at either tribunal. So unless you are paying a representative, like a solicitor there is no cost in making a claim.

Starting the process

The first step that you need to take is to complete a claim form. You can get one from either:

You can also complete the form online on the OITFET website to give information about yourself, your employer and your complaint.

Send the claim form to OITFET and they'll send a copy to your employer. Your employer has to respond within 28 days.

Time limits

Most tribunal claims must be made within three months of the incident, but this can vary. Tribunals will only extend the time limit in exceptional circumstances. As OITFET cannot provide advice, you may wish to seek independent assistance if you are unsure about a time limit.

When your claim will go ahead

The tribunal will check whether you can make the claim. If there's any doubt, there will be a preliminary hearing, usually in front of the chairperson. The tribunal can decide that your claim isn't likely to succeed and order a pre-hearing review to look at the issues. If they think you are unlikely to succeed, they can make you pay a deposit of up to £500. You won't get your deposit back if you lose.

If the case goes ahead, 'case management discussions' can be held to clarify any issues. The tribunal can also ask for further information from you or your employer if they're unclear about the claim.

Settling the issue before a hearing

Try and settle your claim before going to the tribunal as you may not win. You can usually withdraw your complaint at any time before the hearing. The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free and impartial conciliation to you and your employer.

Where a settlement through conciliation doesn’t seem likely, the LRA can also advise you of the possibility of resolving a dispute via arbitration. If you and your employer agree to this, an independent person will make a decision on the dispute without the need for a tribunal.

The hearing

The tribunal will tell you the date of your hearing. You don't have to appear in person, but you must tell the tribunal if you want the case to be heard in your absence.

When preparing for the hearing, make sure that you have all the paperwork that you will use. It usually helps to consider things in date order to provide a sequence of events. If you're going to use any documents, you'll need to tell the other side, giving them at least seven days notice before the hearing.

At the hearing, you, or your representatives, and your employer put your cases to the panel and answer questions. The panel will then come to a decision. You can take witnesses to the hearing who can give evidence to support your case. If any witnesses you would like to be there refuse to go, you can ask the tribunal to order them to attend. If you decide to represent yourself the panel will try to make things clear for you.

Depending on your financial situation, you may be entitled to Legal Aid to help you obtain legal advice on your claim and to prepare your case, but not for representation at the hearing.

If you're a member of a trade union, they may pay for a solicitor. Some household insurers pay reasonable legal costs, but check your policy documents. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland may be able to help if you are claiming that discrimination has taken place.

Unlike other courts, tribunals don't usually order either side to pay costs unless they decide you or your employer acted unreasonably in bringing the case, or if any representatives at the hearing behaved unreasonably.

If you win

The tribunal can order your employer to pay compensation, which is unlimited for discrimination or dismissal on health and safety grounds. For unfair dismissal claims the award is made up of:

  • a basic award - calculated based on your on age and length of service
  • a compensatory award which has a maximum limit (the maximum is rarely awarded)

Compensation can be awarded for wrongful dismissal or other breaches of contract and is subject to a maximum limit. Compensation is intended to replace lost earnings. There's no payment for hurt feelings, with the exception of discrimination cases. You have to try to reduce your loss (for example, by getting another job or claiming benefit).

The Tribunal may make an additional award on top of the two awards above if it orders your employer to re-employ you but your employer does not comply.

Recoupment

If you have claimed Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) or Income Support (IS) since the event, recoupment may apply to your case.

Recoupment prevents double payment. It means your employer may deduct some or the entire amount you claimed in JSA or IS from the compensation awarded to you by an Industrial Tribunal and repay it to your local benefits office.

This rule applies when an Industrial Tribunal makes a monetary award for unfair dismissal and if applicable, for your employer's failure to:

  • make a guarantee payment in case of compensation for redundancy
  • pay your wages during a period of medical or maternity suspension
  • pay a 'protective award' to you if you are made redundant, or about be made redundant
  • consult workplace representatives in collective redundancy situations

If you lose

You can ask the tribunal to review its decision, although the grounds for doing so are limited. It's also possible to appeal to the High Court, which only looks at points of law.

So, for example, you can't appeal if you think the tribunal just got the facts wrong. In this case, you have the right to legal aid.

Where you can get help

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland.

For more information on resolving workplace disputes, the LRA has produced a Code of Practice and associated guidance.

Advice NI offers free and impartial advice. 

If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

More useful links

 

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to anglingcorrespondence@daera-ni.gov.uk 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912
Email 
dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 
Email 
customerservice.unit@communities-ni.gov.uk

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 
Email dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to bluebadges@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email ani@accessni.gov.uk

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to ema_ni@slc.co.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email gro_nisra@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email LPSCustomerTeam@lpsni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.