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HMRC internal manual

National Minimum Wage Manual

Roles and Responsibilities: Employment Tribunals (England, Wales and Scotland)

Employment tribunals are judicial bodies established to resolve disputes between employers and workers over employment rights, including claims to national minimum wage. Administrative support is provided by the HM Courts & Tribunals Service an agency of the Ministry of Justice.

When a worker phones the Pay and Work Rights Helpline they are advised they can make their own claim to an Employment Tribunal if they believe they have not been paid at least national minimum wage rates. There are time limits to make a claim (usually three months from the date employment ended or the matter being complained about happened). The tribunal will only consider late claims in a narrow range of circumstances. Claims can be made either on line or by post but must be made on the approved form. Claims are heard at the tribunal covering the postcode where the claimant worked or applied to work or, if neither of these applies, the postcode for the place where the matter being complained about happened. Each claim is given a case number, and will usually be copied to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (NMWM02080) who may be involved in trying to resolve the dispute avoiding the need for it to be heard.

The person making a claim is called the claimant. If a claim is not accepted the tribunal will return the claim with an explanatory letter which tells the claimant why the form has been returned and what to do next. If a claim is accepted the claimant is sent a confirmation letter and an advisory booklet about the tribunal process.

The respondent (the person against whom the claim is made) is sent a copy of the complaint form. A claim can be made against one or a number of respondents. They have 28 days to make a response. If they do not, or the response does not contain the correct information, the case will proceed to a hearing as if no response was received.

The claimant and respondent can nominate a representative to act on their behalf. If they do, the tribunal will only deal directly with their representative.

Although an Employment Tribunal is not as formal as a court it must comply with rules of procedure and act independently. After a claim has been accepted, there may be some issues which need to be dealt with before it can be decided. For example, the tribunal may give directions or orders about the provision of further information and other matters relating to the case. If witnesses are vital to the case but will not come to the hearing freely, both parties can ask for a witness order to make them attend.

There are three different kinds of Employment Tribunal hearings:

  • Case management discussions - held in private before the Chairman sitting alone or over the phone
  • Pre-hearing reviews - held in public before the Chairman sitting alone or over the phone
  • The final hearing - held in public before the Chairman and two lay members.

Almost all hearings are open to the public. A full tribunal includes a chairman and two lay members. Evidence is given on oath or affirmation. The judgment of the tribunal is always issued in writing and written reasons for the decision can either be requested at the hearing or applied for in writing within fourteen days of the date the judgment was issued. The respondent has 42 days from the date of the judgment to pay any sum awarded. In England and Wales the County Court can be asked to enforce payment of the judgment. In Scotland, the Secretary to the tribunal can issue an extract of the judgment which a Sheriff Officer may use to enforce payment.

The claimant does not generally have to pay the respondent’s costs. However, the tribunal can make an order for costs if it believes:

  • the claimant or their representative behaved unreasonably in the way they conducted their case, or
  • the case was so weak that it should not have been brought.

Appeals against the judgment of an Employment Tribunal are heard by an Employment Appeal Tribunal (NMWM02120) and must usually be on a point of law.

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For information about the position in Northern Ireland see NMWM02110.