I've received a claim form from the Employment Tribunal saying that an ex-employee is claiming unfair dismissal - what do I do?
The most important point to bear in mind if your business is unfortunate enough to have a claim brought against it, is that there is a deadline within which you must respond to the Tribunal. You have 28-days to present your response to the Tribunal office.
I only have a week left to respond and the line-manager who dismissed the employee is on leave and I don't really know what went on, can I send the response in late?
No, if you do not respond within the original 28-day deadline, you are not entitled to take any further part in the proceedings and the Tribunal can award default judgment to the claimant (your ex-employee). You can apply for an extension of time within which to file your response with the Tribunal, but you must do so before the original 28-day limit expires. Your application needs to comply with Rule 11 of the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2004.
It seems that I can't just ignore it, but I haven't got time to deal with this - is there anything else I can do?
An Acas conciliation officer will have been assigned to the case and you should receive a letter giving you the conciliator's details. Acas has a statutory duty to promote settlement of the proceedings. The conciliator does not represent either party and does not give legal advice, but he or she can explain the process, explain the legislation and assess the likely amount of compensation. It is always worth speaking to Acas as they are responsible for settling around 25% of cases. When you are considering whether or not to settle, do take into account the cost (legal fees, management time and potential compensation which you may have to pay out), as well as the stress and inconvenience.
Now I've got more information, it seems that the line manager did everything properly so I'm inclined to defend the claim, do I need a solicitor to represent me?
You don't have to have a legally qualified representative and you can present your own case to the Employment Tribunal. When Employment Tribunals were set up they were designed to be informal and easily accessible for the benefit of unrepresented parties. Just under half of claimants at Employment Tribunal hearings are represented by someone who is not a lawyer. Having said that, employment law is becoming increasingly technical and complex and a solicitor may well be able to identify any issues which could damage or even knock out the claim against you at an early stage. Even if there are no major failings, a solicitor can help you to minimise the risk of the claim succeeding and of you having to pay compensation.
Will I get my costs back?
In the Employment Tribunal, generally speaking, each side is responsible for its own costs, so it is unlikely that you will have your costs paid or that you will have to pay your opponent's costs. The Tribunal can award costs if a party or the party's representative has in conducting the proceedings acted vexatiously, abusively, disruptively or otherwise unreasonably or where the bringing or conducting of the proceedings by a party has been misconceived. In 2008/2009 costs were awarded in 367 cases, (out of more than 151,000 cases which were accepted) and 47% of cost awards were for less than £1000.00
Published - February 2010
This article is provided for general information only. Please do not make any decision on the basis of this article alone without taking specific advice from us. stevensdrake will only be responsible for the advice we give which is specific to you.