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Receiving an Employment Tribunal claim: what to do next?

Although a Tribunal claim can seem daunting, knowing what to expect could help you defend the claim as effectively as possible. Below is an explanation of what happens at the start of the process, what to do to help prepare the defence and tips on how to keep down legal costs.

Acas early conciliation

An Employment Tribunal claim usually does not come out of the blue. In most cases, the employee must contact Acas first to trigger early conciliation. Early conciliation lasts up to six weeks, during which time Acas mediate between you and the individual to try to settle the potential claim against your organisation. If the conciliation is unsuccessful, the individual is issued with a certificate. Without this, they cannot bring a claim. The door to settlement does not close after that; you can still negotiate through Acas or directly with the individual or their representative.

Receiving the claim

If the individual decides to bring a claim, they do not have to send it to you; instead, they will send it to the Tribunal. The Tribunal will send you the claim form (called an ET1); often with an attachment setting out the claim in more detail (the Particulars of Claim). You will also receive a letter informing you of the date by which you have to submit a response and the form you need to fill in and return to the Tribunal (called an ET3).

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines

It is crucial to check the deadline on the letter for sending your ET3 to the Tribunal. This will be 28 calendar days from the date the ET1 was sent to you.

What happens if the response is late?

Tribunals are strict about the deadline. Miss it and you risk the Tribunal deciding that your ET3 is not admissible. This usually means that your side of the story is not heard.

Can I ask for extra time?

Either before or after the 28-day time limit, you can apply to the Tribunal for an extension of time. There is no guarantee that it will be allowed, as the Tribunal will consider the fairness of the request and why you could not meet the deadline. The application should be made as soon as possible as the Tribunal Service is extremely busy and can on occasions take time in responding to an extension of time application. We can help you put forward the strongest reasons.

Getting the response right

The ET3 form and Grounds of Resistance need to be completed carefully. These set out your side of the story and should address all the allegations in the claim. This is the backbone to your case, and the Tribunal will hold you to it. We can help you draft this to best protect your business. It may be necessary to admit some elements of the claim, which cannot realistically be defended, for example, where a clear error was made in the calculation of notice pay. Tribunals may strike out part of a response if there is no reasonable prospect of successfully defending it. You also risk having to pay costs to the claimant for trying to defend the indefensible.

Can I delete unhelpful emails?

Further down the line in proceedings, the Tribunal will require the parties to disclose all relevant documents to each other. This includes documents that are not favourable to your case. When Tribunals refer to documents, this has a wide meaning and includes emails, notes from meetings, audio recordings, texts, and social media posts. These should be saved, regardless of whether they are helpful or not.