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Attending your employment tribunal hearing

This advice applies to Scotland

Make sure you’re as prepared as you can be for your tribunal hearing. Check you’ve done all you can to prepare

If your hearing is in person, you should aim to arrive at the employment tribunal at least half an hour before the hearing starts. 

When you arrive a clerk will check you in at reception. They’ll usually ask if you have a representative, any witnesses and any documents for the tribunal.

The clerk will also ask you and your witnesses if you want to:

  • swear on your holy book that you’ll tell the truth - this is called ‘giving evidence on oath’

  • promise that you’ll tell the truth without a holy book - this is called ‘affirming’  

You’ll then wait in the employee or claimant’s waiting room. Your employer will be in a separate waiting room. The clerk will get you when the tribunal is ready for the hearing. An employment tribunal is usually a public hearing, so there might be other people in the room when you go through for the hearing.

If your hearing is online, check the link the tribunal sent you before the hearing is due to start. If you have any problems logging in, contact the tribunal. Make sure your phone is on but set to silent in case the tribunal needs to contact you.

You should also make sure you can contact anyone else involved in your hearing, like your representative or witnesses. For example, you might need to contact a witness if they’re having trouble joining the online hearing. 

If your employer brings new evidence to the hearing

They’ll have to ask the tribunal to let them use the new evidence. The tribunal is likely to let them use it if it’s relevant. 

You can ask for a short break in the hearing or for the whole hearing to be delayed so you can look at the new evidence. The tribunal might agree - it depends how much new evidence there is and how important it is to your case. 

If your employer didn’t give you the evidence they should have, you can ask the tribunal to make them pay your costs. For example, they might have to pay for any extra time you have to spend looking at the new evidence.  

If your employer offers to settle the case on the day

Before the hearing, the employer’s representative might try to get you to agree to settle the case. If you have a representative, they’ll handle this conversation. Last minute settlements in the tribunal are quite common - even at this late stage you can agree a settlement rather than go through with the hearing.

If you don't have a representative, negotiating a last minute settlement can be difficult. If you can, you should be prepared for this. Think about what you would want from a last minute settlement if your employer's representative wants to discuss this.

Your employer’s representative might try to put pressure on you to withdraw your case or to settle. Try not to be intimidated by them and ask them to explain anything you don't understand. Don’t be bullied into agreeing to something you're not happy with. 

If you agree to settle the case on the day, the agreement should be written down. Your representative, your employer’s representative, the tribunal, or an Acas officer can do this. You’ll then be able to enforce the agreement if the employer doesn’t pay.

You can find out more about settlements in employment tribunal claims.

Check who decides your case

Most cases are decided by an employment judge on their own. Your case might be decided by 3 people, for example if it involves discrimination. If there are 3 people, they’re called a tribunal panel. The 3 people on the panel are:

  • an employment judge who will run the proceedings

  • a person representing employers' organisations

  • a person representing employees' organisations

The employment judge will make sure the case finishes on time. For example, they can limit the amount of time each side has to give evidence or question witnesses.

The judge or panel usually sit at a slightly raised desk. The atmosphere is like a court but slightly less formal. For example, nobody wears wigs or gowns, but there are rules about what happens and who speaks when.

Talking to the employment tribunal judge or panel 

When you talk to the employment judge or one of the panel members, you should call them ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. 

It's important that you understand what's going on - you're entitled to ask if you don't. If the tribunal panel or your employer's representative says something you don't understand, ask them to explain what they mean. You can take the time you need to understand things and answer a question.

Check how the hearing starts 

At the beginning of the tribunal hearing, the panel members will introduce themselves. The judge will usually ask you and your employer some questions to understand what you're claiming and what your employer's defence is. 

They might also ask if all the directions they set were followed. This is the time to tell them if you have any concerns or problems - for example if your employer hasn't sent you their witness statements before the hearing.

Then you’ll either start giving your evidence or cross-examine your employer and their witnesses. 

Giving evidence

Giving evidence means telling the tribunal what happened and answering questions from your employer and the tribunal.It’s a criminal offence to lie when giving evidence.

What you and your witnesses say is part of the evidence the tribunal will consider to decide your case. They’ll also consider what your employer says and the documents you or your employer refer to. 

The judge will decide if you or your employer will give evidence first. In an unfair dismissal claim, the employer usually goes first and you should be ready to ask them questions. If you’re making a discrimination claim, you usually go first. 

Check what to do when it’s your turn to give evidence

If your hearing is online, the judge will start by asking you and your witnesses if you want to:

  • swear on your holy book that you’ll tell the truth - this is called ‘giving evidence on oath’

  • promise that you’ll tell the truth without a holy book - this is called ‘affirming’  

If your hearing is in person, you’ll already have told the clerk what you want to do.

Your employer or their representative will ask you questions. This is called ‘cross-examination’. You should make sure you understand the questions and answer them honestly. The tribunal judge might also ask questions at any time and will often take over the running of the hearing. 

Sometimes being cross-examined can be difficult because your employer is trying to prove that your case is wrong. You should try to keep calm, take your time and answer honestly - ask if you don't understand something.

Giving your evidence might take a long time if the case is complicated - for example if you’re claiming discrimination. If you feel tired, you can ask for a break - you won’t be able to talk to anyone about your case until you’ve finished giving all your evidence.

After the employer has finished cross-examination, your representative, if you have one, might ask you a few more questions. This is called ‘re-examination’. 

The employment judge and tribunal members might then ask you questions. 

Check what to do when it's your employer's turn to give evidence

They’ll call their witnesses. You or your representative can ask the witnesses questions in cross-examination.

If you don't have a representative, the judge will ask if you've got any questions you'd like to ask the witnesses. This is your chance to ask them about their evidence. It's important to ask about all the facts you’re relying on as part of your case. 

You can find out more about how to prepare your questions

You might feel angry towards your employer, but don’t be rude or aggressive towards them or their witnesses - that might damage your case.

Check what happens when the tribunal has heard all the evidence 

The tribunal will usually ask if you'd like to make some more comments. These are called ‘closing submissions’. It's a good idea to prepare something to say. A submission gives you an opportunity to:

  • explain the legal issues

  • summarise the evidence that supports your case

  • explain why you think the tribunal should agree with you

If you don't understand the law, you can say you don’t want to make a submission but will try to answer any questions the tribunal has. 

Getting the tribunal decision

After the closing submissions, the judge will tell you what happens next. Sometimes they’ll make their decision on the day, sometimes they’ll take more time and send it to you later.

If they’re going to make their decision that day, the tribunal will leave the room to decide and tell you their decision when they come back. You and your employer will be sent a written record of the judgment after the hearing. It could take several weeks, so try to take notes when the tribunal reads out their decision. 

If you win your case

The tribunal might decide on compensation then or at another hearing called a ‘remedy hearing’. It will depend on how much time they have and how difficult the calculation is. 

The tribunal might take a break in the proceedings to allow you and your employer to try to agree a settlement. It can be good for both sides to agree a settlement, even at this stage. For example, the tribunal can’t make your employer give you a reference, but your employer could agree to give you one as part of a settlement. 

If you got benefits because you were dismissed, your employer might have to repay that amount to the DWP. You’ll have to wait for the DWP to tell your employer how much they need to pay back before you get your compensation. You can find out more about the effect of welfare benefits on compensation

Find out more about what happens if you win your case

Getting written reasons for the tribunal’s decision

As well as giving you a judgment which says if you won or lost your claim, the tribunal can give 'reasons', explaining why you won or lost. They might do this at the hearing, after the hearing -  or only give them in writing if you ask for them. 

If you lose your case

If you’re unhappy with the tribunal’s decision, find out if you can challenge it

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