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Claims vs traffickers: Forums

There are three main forums that handle UK employment disputes, the employment tribunal, the county court and the high court.

The Employment Tribunal

The employment tribunal is a type of court which deals exclusively with disputes arising from an employment relationship.

The employment tribunal does not have the power to send anyone to prison it only has the power to conclude that an employer has acted unlawfully and order that the employer pays financial compensation to the employee. In some circumstances the tribunal can order that the employer reinstate the employee to their position if they have been unlawfully dismissed or re-engage the employee in a new role.

There are fees to use the employment tribunal, although if the employee is unemployed or earning a low salary they may be able to apply for fee remission, meaning the fees would be waived or greatly reduced.

Time limits

Generally a complaint to the employment tribunal must be made within three months (less a day) of the act complained of. Therefore, if the employee was dismissed on 18 June 2013 a complaint of unfair dismissal would need to be made by 17 September 2013.

Time limits at the Tribunal are extremely strict and can be extended only in very limited circumstances. It is important that a time limit is not missed otherwise the employee will lose the right to complain.

The County Court

The County Court can deal with employment disputes if they amount to a breach of contract, so a complaint to pay a sum due under the contract could be heard by the County Court, but not a complaint of unfair dismissal because it is not a contractual complaint and it must therefore be heard by the Employment Tribunal.

There are fees to use the employment tribunal, although if the employee is unemployed or earning a low salary they may be able to apply for fee remission, meaning the fees would be waived or greatly reduced.

The time limit for a breach of contract complaint to the County Court is generally six years, however as only a limited number of employment breaches can be framed as a breach of contract complaint it is not safe to assume that having missed a time limit at the employment tribunal that the employee can simply bring a complaint at the County Court.

The High Court

Like the County Court the High Court can only hear employment disputes amounting to a breach of contract. However, the High Court will only accept jurisdiction if:

  • The financial value of the claim and/or the amount in dispute exceeds £100,000, and/or
  • The facts, legal issues, remedies or procedures involved are complex, and/or
  • The outcome of the claim is important to the public in general.

The decision as to whether to bring a complaint at the Employment Tribunal or County Court will depend largely on the type of complaint, value of compensation and time limit available for making a complaint.