Law guide: Employment

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Tribunal claims and rules

Tribunal claims and rules

Where an employee has a claim for unfair dismissal, redundancy payments, discrimination or a range of other employment-related issues, they can bring a claim by lodging a complaint.

Complaints must be made in writing, using the appropriate form and sent within the appropriate time limit. The complaint should be responded to by an employer within the appropriate time limit.

What can an employee claim for and by when?

An employee can bring the following claims by presenting a complaint to a tribunal:

  • Unfair dismissal
  • Discrimination on the grounds of age, disability (including claims from job applicants), gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, sex, sexual orientation, and/or religion or belief, (England, Wales and Scotland) or religious belief or political opinion (Northern Ireland)
  • Equal pay
  • Unlawful deductions from wages
  • Redundancy payments
  • Breach of maternity and paternity rights
  • Failure to provide written reasons for dismissal
  • Victimisation and/or harassment due to asserting statutory rights
  • Certain claims for damages for breach of contract including wrongful dismissal

Time limits

The time limit for presenting a complaint to a tribunal differs depending on the type of complaint being made, the most common time limit being 3 months

Note that the Early Conciliation process via the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service or the Labour Relations Agency (in Northern Ireland) means the time limit will be longer (see Early conciliation).

The consequences to the employee of failing to send their application within the appropriate time limit can be severe as it could result in their claim being struck out. Although tribunals have the power to extend the time limit, it will only do so in exceptional circumstances.

It is therefore important for an employer defending a claim to know the rules regarding time limits as they could raise the point that the employee has failed to make their claim in time. The rules are complex and we suggest you get legal advice.

The most common complaints and appropriate time limits are the following:

Unfair dismissal

The complaint must be presented within 3 months starting with (and including) effective date of termination (see Eligibility criteria for unfair dismissal claims for more on this).

In the majority of cases, this date will correspond to the last day on which the employee worked. For example, an employee dismissed on 2 September must submit a claim on or before 1 December. Otherwise, the claim will most likely be made out of time and not allowed to proceed.

Redundancy payments

Claims must generally be made within 6 months starting with (and including) the effective date of termination, but there are specific time periods involved which are complicated and need be approached on a case-by-case basis.


Any complaints of discrimination must be brought within 3 months starting with the date the act or acts occurred. For example, an employee discriminated against on 2 September must submit a claim on or before 1 December. Otherwise, the claim will most likely be made out of time and not allowed to proceed. The rules for allowing claims in late are, however, less strict for discrimination claims. There are also complex rules regarding continuing acts of discrimination and specific legal advice should be taken in such a situation.

Equal pay

No specific time limit is allocated if an employee is still working for their employer. If the employee has left their employer, the claim should be brought within 6 months of the employee leaving employment. This time limit may be extended if the employer has deliberately concealed information regarding rates of pay.

Alternatively, if an equal pay claim is begun at a court (in England and Wales or Northern Ireland) then an employee will have six years from the date that the employee leaves employment.

There is currently a 6-year limitation period (five years in Scotland) regarding claims for arrears of remuneration and/or damages.

Unlawful deductions from wages

If there's only one deduction, claims must be brought within 3 months, starting with (and including) the date of the unlawful deduction. If there's more than one, claims must be brought within 3 months, starting with the date of the most recent deduction.

In England, Wales and Scotland, changes have been made to limit the scope of claims for unlawful deductions from wages (which include salary, commission, bonuses and holiday pay). Employees are limited to claiming no more than 2 years of unpaid wages in England, Wales and Scotland. There is presently no limit to claiming unpaid wages in Northern Ireland.

Wrongful dismissal

Claims must be brought within 3 months starting with (and including) the effective date of termination.

Before starting a claim

Before starting a claim, an employee must usually have been continuously employed for 2 years (or 1 year in Northern Ireland).

However, an employee who has not obtained the required qualifying period of service may still make a claim for unfair dismissal on any of the following grounds:

  • Pregnancy and all reasons relating to maternity
  • Taking time off for parental leave, shared parental leave, paternity leave (birth and adoption), adoption leave or to look after dependants
  • Acting as an employee representative
  • Trade union membership grounds and union recognition
  • Taking time off for jury service
  • Making a protected disclosure (generally known as 'whistleblowing')
  • Because of certain specific circumstances relating to health and safety
  • Rights under the Working Time Regulations and related to the minimum wage
  • Claiming certain specific statutory rights
  • Exercising rights under part-time or fixed-term employee regulations
  • Because of their political opinions or affiliations

Employee can also bring a claim for discrimination on grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, sex, sexual orientation and/or religion or belief (England, Wales and Scotland) or religious belief or political opinion (Northern Ireland) regardless of the amount of time that they've been employed.

The claim

The claim must be made in writing using the appropriate Employment Tribunal form (Form ET 1). It should set out what's being claimed and the reasons (grounds) for it. There are other specific pieces of information that must also be provided – it's not enough for somebody to just state, for example, 'I was unfairly dismissed'. The employee must state why they think the dismissal was unfair.

If an issue has not been stated clearly or there's an obvious mistake, the Employment Tribunal has the power to permit amendments altering the claim.

When deciding whether to grant an amendment, the Employment Tribunal will have to consider any injustice or hardship on the employer that may be caused by allowing or refusing the amendments.

The response

A response (defence) must be received by the Employment Tribunal within 28 days from the day that the Employment Tribunal sends you a copy of the employee's claim (Form ET 1). You must use Form ET 3 when filing your response.

If it's not possible for you to fill in the form in time, you can ask the Employment Tribunal to extend the time limit.

For claims in England, Wales and Scotland, you must ask for the extension in writing before or after the original 28-day time limit. You must also give the employee a copy of the extension application. If the employee wishes to oppose it, they must do so within 7 days of receiving it. Either party can request an employment judge to deal with the application at a hearing.

For claims in Northern Ireland, you must ask for any extension in writing as soon as possible within the 28-day time limit. You must also provide full reasons why you are asking for the extension. The chairman will then decide whether to grant you one.

See GOV.UK for more information on handling Employment Tribunal claims.

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