Page last updated at 12:22 GMT, Monday, 3 October 2005 13:22 UK

How employment tribunals can help

Tribunals and help avoid expensive court cases
Tribunals and help avoid expensive court cases

A tribunal is a body of people set up to settle disputes between employers and their employees.

The arguments over which they preside include maternity rights and equal pay, but they regularly relate to unfair dismissal claims.

The tribunal will usually consist of a legally qualified chairman and two independent laymen whose job it is to decide the outcome of the case.

Although similar to a civil action in a court, there are key differences with tribunals. Perhaps the most important point is the fact it is unable to enforce any award it makes - this has to be done via separate application to a court.

Secondly, the strict rules surrounding evidence don't really apply either, while the parties can present their own case or be represented by anyone at their own cost. There is no legal aid available for such hearings, although trade unions will often foot the bill for a member's expenses.

Compensation levels

The level of compensation is normally made up of a basic award and a compensatory award. The basic sum is half a week's gross pay for each year of service in which the employee was below the age of 22; a week's pay for each completed year between the ages of 22 and 41 and one and a half week's pay for each year over 41. The maximum number of years is 20.

Tribunal remedies
Reinstatement to original job
Re-engagement to the company but in a different job

The compensatory award is to make up for loss of earnings, so the actual sum differs depending on individual cases. It can include net pay, overtime payments, bonuses and in some cases pension rights.

In theory a tribunal can declare an employer in breach of its contract of employment, award compensation and insist the employee is reinstated. In practice, however, very few re-employment orders are made.

Tribunals can also be very emotional and distressing for the parties involved. It is likely that personal information will be made public and it will adversely affect your relationship with your former employer.

Only you can decide whether it is the right course of action for you after you have obtained legal advice on your individual circumstances.

Advice leaflets are available from the Citizens Advice Bureau, your local Jobcentre or from Employment Tribunals Online.

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