If you're thinking of making a claim to an employment tribunal

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

If you have a problem at work you can’t sort out with your employer, you might have to make a claim to an employment tribunal - for example, if you’ve been unfairly dismissed, discriminated against or haven’t been paid the right amount. 

You don’t need to pay a fee to make a claim to an employment tribunal. 

There are some things you should consider before making a claim to an employment tribunal. 

Check if you can make a claim to an employment tribunal

You’ll need to check the requirements for the claim you’re making.

There are also some things you might have to do before you can make a claim. For example, you might have to:

  • make your claim by a deadline

  • get an early conciliation certificate

Check the deadline for making your claim

For most claims, you have 3 months less 1 day from when the event happened to start early conciliation. You’ll then have at least a month to make a claim to the tribunal. 

If you’re claiming redundancy pay or equal pay, you have 6 months less 1 day to start early conciliation. 

In some very limited circumstances - for example if you’ve been dismissed for health and safety or whistleblowing, you can make a claim to get paid until a tribunal decides your case. You must make this claim within 7 days of the day you were dismissed. You should talk to an adviser.

If you’re making more than one claim, you might have different time limits for each one. For example if you’re claiming unfair dismissal and redundancy pay, you’ll have 3 months less 1 day for the unfair dismissal claim and 6 months less 1 day for the redundancy pay claim. 

If you’re not sure if you’re within the time limit for making a claim, talk to an adviser.

Get an early conciliation certificate

In nearly all employment cases, you have to tell an organisation called Acas you want to make a tribunal claim. Acas is a government-funded body whose job is to help with workplace disputes. Telling Acas starts a process called early conciliation. 

When early conciliation finishes, you’ll get a document called an ‘early conciliation certificate’. The certificate has a number - you’ll need to put on your employment tribunal claim form.

You can find out more about early conciliation.

Check what types of claim an employment tribunal can decide

An employment tribunal can only deal with claims from someone working in Great Britain against an employer that’s based, or carries on business, in Great Britain. 

If you do some or all of your work outside Great Britain, talk to an adviser

An employment tribunal can only decide certain types of work-related claims, including: 

  • rights to pay - like unpaid wages, notice or holiday pay or not being paid the National Minimum Wage

Check if you need help to make a claim

You should also consider things like how much making a claim will cost you in terms of time and energy. It can be stressful and take months before your case is heard. 

Think if you need help with your claim. You don’t need a lawyer to make a tribunal claim although you might find it helpful to get advice. You can find organisations that might be able to give you help and advice

Check any insurance policy you have - it might cover legal expenses. If you’re a member of a trade union, check if they can help you.

Check how strong your case is

It's a good idea to think about how strong your case is as this can help you decide if you want to make a claim or settle your case, where that’s possible. 

An employment tribunal will do 2 things when deciding your claim - it will:

  • identify the facts to decide what happened

  • apply legal tests to the facts to make a decision

It’s really important you give a clear, consistent account and provide as much evidence as possible to support what you're saying. 

It’s a good idea to think about what evidence you might need so you have time to get it together. You don’t need to send in the evidence with your claim. 

If your employer owes you money as part of your claim, like unpaid wages, holiday or notice pay - you use evidence like wage slips or time sheets.

If you’re making another type of claim, like unfair dismissal and discrimination - it can be more difficult to work out if you'll win. This is because you and your employer might give a different version of what’s happened. You should talk to an adviser to get advice on how strong a claim you might have.

If you have an adviser or legal representative, they’ll usually:

  • advise you on what claims you might have

  • decide if you meet the conditions to make those claims

  • look at what evidence you have

When they’ve seen your employer’s evidence, your adviser will look at how strong your claim is. If your claim is complicated, it might take some time before your adviser is able to weigh up your chances of success.

If you don’t have an adviser, try to think clearly about what evidence you have to back up your arguments. You should also think about what evidence your employer might have to back up their argument. 

Check a tribunal can give you what you want

If you win, the most likely thing you’ll get from a tribunal is compensation. If you’ve been dismissed, it’s rare for a tribunal to order your employer to give you your old job back. You can find out more about what you can get from an employment tribunal

Check if your employer is likely to pay you compensation if you win

Many people who win an employment tribunal never get their payments in full. For example, if your employer is in financial difficulty they’re unlikely to pay you. 

Usually, a bigger company is more likely to pay any award of compensation promptly and in full. Small limited companies or sole traders are less likely to pay you. 

It’s also worth checking if your employer has had any other employment tribunal cases brought against them - and if they had to pay compensation. You can check if there have been any judgments against your employer on GOV.UK. There’s no fee to pay for this. 

You can check the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines to see if your employer paid compensation. You have to pay a fee to check. 

Check if your employer has a history of winding up and restarting under a new name

These companies are sometimes called ‘phoenix companies’. They avoid paying their debts by transferring their assets, like the stock, customer orders and staff, to a new company and winding up the old one. The debts of the old company don't transfer to the new one. The old company no longer exists, so even if you win your claim, you won’t get any money.

Check if your employer has stopped trading

If your employer was a limited company and has stopped trading, there’s a risk the company has no money or assets to pay you. A limited company usually has the letters ‘Ltd’ after the company name. You can check to see if they’re insolvent on the Companies House website.

Even if the directors of the company have money, your claim is against the company and the directors won't usually have to pay your compensation themselves.

If you win a discrimination or whistleblowing claim the company directors might have to pay compensation themselves.

If your employer is a sole trader who’s stopped trading

If your employer no longer has any business assets, check if they have any personal assets like a car or a house. If they do, you could go to court to get a judgment to make them sell those assets and pay you.

Check if your employer is insolvent 

If your employer is insolvent, bankrupt or in administration or liquidation, you might be able to get money they owe you from a government scheme called the National Insurance Fund. The fund can only pay certain claims, like redundancy or holiday pay. You can check what claims the fund can pay on GOV.UK

If your claim is for something the National Insurance Fund can’t pay, it usually isn't worth making a claim against an insolvent employer. They'll have no money to pay you and you might need to get permission from the administrators or a court to chase them for payment.

If you’ve decided to make a claim

Check how to make your claim

Page last reviewed on 11 October 2021