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Starting an employment tribunal claim

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

About starting an employment tribunal claim

If you've got a problem at work that you can't sort out, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

This page tells you how to go about starting a claim.

There may be other ways of sorting out your problem than making a claim to an employment tribunal.

To find out more about other ways of sorting out your problem at work, see Sorting out problems at work.

Filling in the ET1 claim form

You start your claim to an employment tribunal by filling in the claim form. This is called an ET1.

You can either fill in a paper ET1 form, or the online version. You can get the online version on the employment tribunals page on the Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal website at:  

If you decide to fill in the paper version, you should be able to get a copy from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

The ET1 is a very important form. If you have an adviser or representative ask them to help you with this.

The ET1 provides space for you to write a statement about your claim. If the case goes to a hearing, this is the first document the tribunal will read.

You need to give a clear account of what your complaint is about, and keep to the point as much as possible. You should write about events in the same order they happened. Write in numbered paragraphs. If you miss something out, it might be hard to add it later, so you should mention every key event you are complaining about. However, you should try to avoid going into enormous amounts of detail about every little thing that happened.

You don't need to use legal language or quote the law. On the other hand, you must make sure your complaint is about something that is covered by the law. If your employer responds to your claim by saying that it is not the kind of case an employment tribunal has the authority (jurisdiction) to make a decision about, you will need to get legal advice.

You might be able to get advice about your claim from the Labour Relations Agency helpline. Telephone: 028 9032 1442

To find out more about your employer's response to your claim, see Employer's response to an employment tribunal claim.

Time limits

There are short, very strict time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal. In most cases, you have three months less one day from the date of dismissal, but time limits can be different for some situations.

Appeals and dismissal

If you are dismissed, and you appeal against your dismissal, the fact that you have appealed does not change the date of the dismissal, postpone the dismissal or extend time for making a claim. The date of the dismissal stays the same. You have been dismissed pending the appeal. If you are unsure when the date of the dismissal is, you should always rely on the last day that you actually did work for your employer as the date of the dismissal.

Notice and the date of the dismissal

If you work out your notice, the date of the dismissal is when you stop working out your notice.

If your employer tells you that you are being dismissed with notice or with notice pay, but they don't want you to work your notice out, you need to be clear about whether you are:-

  • being dismissed immediately with pay in lieu of notice, or
  • still employed until the end of the notice period but your employer wants you to stay at home during the notice period.

If you are not sure, ask your employer to confirm the actual date on which, in your employer's view, your employment is being terminated. If you can't get this information or you are not sure, take the last date on which you actually did work for your employer as the date of dismissal.

You can start an unfair dismissal claim if you have received notice of dismissal, even if the dismissal has not actually happened yet. It is always better to make an early claim than to lose your chance to make a claim because it is late.

Getting help with checking time limits

It can be difficult to work out when your time limit starts from. Your adviser or representative can help you with this, or you can call one of the helplines, for example the LRA. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland helpline might also be able to help if you have a discrimination case.

For more information about organisations that may be able to advise on time limits and how to contact them, see What help can I get with a problem at work.

Sending the ET1 form

Your ET1 form must be officially received at the tribunal office within the time limit, not just be posted. Most claims that arrive late won't be able to continue. If you’re responsible for putting in your own claim, make sure you understand the time limits and make sure your claim is sent in good time. If you can avoid it, don’t leave filling in the ET1 to just before the end of the time limit. Many employees find that they can’t bring their case because they left it too late.

The form should be sent to:

The Office of the Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal

Killymeal House

2 Cromac Quay

Ormeau Road



Tel: 028 9032 7666

Fax: 028 9025 0100

Depending on your financial circumstances, you may be entitled to Legal Aid to help you obtain legal advice on your claim and to prepare your case, but not for representation at the hearing. For further information on Legal Aid, see the website of the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission

Who's responsible for sending the ET1 form to the tribunal?

If you have an adviser helping with your case, make sure you understand who's responsible for sending the ET1 form to the tribunal. If you have a representative, they will normally send off the form. You should check if you're not sure.

What about a discrimination questionnaire?

Discrimination can be difficult to prove. If you think you've been discriminated against by your employer, there's a procedure that allows you to ask your employer written questions in some situations. This is to help you decide whether you were discriminated against.

The procedure involves writing a questionnaire to send to your employer. You can include questions about their policies and practices that might be relevant to how you feel you were discriminated against.

You can ask questions of the Respondent within 3 months of the last incident of discrimination or within 21 days of lodging your ET1.

You can find more information about discrimination questionnaires on the website of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland at:  

If you have an adviser or representative, they should be able to help you with a discrimination questionnaire.

For more information about discrimination and your rights, see our Discrimination section.

What happens next?

When you've sent in your ET1 form, you should check that the tribunal has received it. Make sure you check before the time limit runs out, so that you can send it again if you need to. You should get a Notice of Acknowledgment soon after you send in your ET1.

After the ET1 form has been received by the tribunal, there's often some time when nothing much seems to be happening. The tribunal will copy your ET1 and send it to your employer to see if they want to respond or defend themselves. The employer’s response is called the ET3 and your employer will be called the respondent from now on. The tribunal should send you a copy of the ET3 about four weeks after you put in your ET1.

To find out more about your employer's response and the ET3, see Employer's response to an employment tribunal claim.

When will my employment tribunal case be heard?

The employment tribunal hearing is when you go to the tribunal and argue your case with your employer.

You'll have to wait some time between putting in your ET1 claim form and the date of the hearing for your case. How long you'll have to wait can be very different depending on where you live, and how busy the employment tribunal is.

Although it's difficult to generalise, cases that only need one day for a hearing tend to have a hearing date between four to six months after you put in the ET1. Some cases, like discrimination claims, will need longer than one day, so you may have to wait longer for a hearing.

Next steps

For the next steps in taking action about problems at work, see Employer's response to an employment tribunal claim.

More about problems at work

For more information about how to sort out problems at work, see Sorting out problems at work.

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