Employment tribunals - winning a claim if your employer owes you money
It's important to work out whether you will have a reasonable chance of winning your case before you start the process.
These pages tell you more about how to assess your chances of winning a claim if you're owed money by your employer.
If you're owed unpaid wages, you'll have a reasonable chance of winning if you can prove:
- you are, or were, a worker. If you’re self-employed you can’t claim wages through an employment tribunal
- the money you are owed is something you can claim for in the employment tribunal
- you’re entitled to the money you're claiming - for example, that you worked the hours and weren’t paid for them, or that your employer prevented you from working when they had no right to do so
- your employer did not have a legal right to withhold your pay, or the deductions were unauthorised.
Unauthorised deductions mean that the employer had no right to take the money from the wages due to you. An employer is allowed to make authorised deductions, for example:
- legal deductions, such as tax and national insurance
- deductions agreed in your contract
- deductions not in your contract that you have agreed in writing and in advance with your employer
- deductions to repay the employer for having overpaid you wages in the past
If the deduction wasn't for any of these reasons, it's likely to be an unauthorised deduction.
If you go to a tribunal, your employer might try to say the deductions were authorised. It's therefore important you have paperwork to prove your claim. Or you can give a good argument why you think the employer shouldn't have deducted the money from your pay. You should check any written contract you've been given, and any staff handbooks to see whether these give your employer a right to make deductions from your pay.
Proving an unpaid wages claim
It will help your case if you can provide the paperwork to support your claim. Examples of paperwork include:
- wages slips
- time sheets
- bank statements that prove the money didn't go into your account.
If you haven't kept the paperwork, you can ask your employer or your bank for copies. You have a legal right to a payslip. If your employer won't do this, they are breaking the law and it could be used as evidence that they have something to hide.
You must make your claim at least 3 months less 1 day of the last time your employer:
- made an unauthorised deduction from your pay
- did not pay you at all when they should have
The claim will only cover deductions made in the previous 2 years. This 2-year period is counted from the date you make your claim.
You must still make your claim within 3 months less 1 day of the last deduction.
If there’s been a series of deductions - for example, if you haven’t been paid for several months in a row - you can count back 2 years from the last deduction.
If there was a gap of more than 3 months between the deductions, you can only count back to the first deduction after the break.
If you leave your job, you may have been entitled to notice pay. The amount of notice you’re entitled to will either depend on what’s written in your contract or what you’re legally entitled to under employment law.
If you continue working your normal hours you should get your normal wages until you leave. If you don’t then you make can make a claim for unpaid notice pay or for unlawful deduction from wages. If your employer ends your employment without giving you the correct notice, you can make a claim for wrongful dismissal.
Pay in lieu of notice
If your employer ends your employment before your notice period ends, they might pay you instead. This is called ‘pay in lieu of notice'. You’ll only get it if it’s allowed under your contract or you and your employer agree to it.
If you aren’t paid the correct amount of pay in lieu of notice you may be able to make a claim for breach of contract or wrongful dismissal.
Your claim will have a good chance of success if you can prove that:
- you were an employee. If you’re self-employed, an agency worker or casual worker, you may not be able to make a claim
- you've been dismissed
- you had at least 2 years’ service
- you were dismissed because there was a genuine redundancy situation in your workplace
If your employer offered you another job and you turned it down, you must prove either:
- the job was not suitable for you
- it was reasonable for you to refuse it, for example because of extra travel time or costs
If you think the selection for redundancy could be unfair, you may have a claim for unfair dismissal, discrimination, or both. If you think this applies to you or you're not sure, talk to an adviser before the time limit runs out.
Proving a claim for redundancy pay
You should also be able to confirm your employment has ended and have worked out a calculation for the redundancy payment you think you're owed. You may have letters from your employer telling you about this.
If you're owed holiday pay, you must be able to prove that you hadn't taken all the days your employer says you did and that you weren't paid for them.
Proving a claim for holiday pay
You should ask your employer for a copy of your holiday records. It may simply be a misunderstanding that you can sort out without going to a tribunal.
If your employer refuses to give you a copy of your records, or still disputes what you say, you'll have to provide evidence that you were in work on the days in question. Colleagues or your manager may be able to confirm this. You might have to ask them to provide a witness statement.
You can use the holiday calculator on GOV.UK to work out your holiday entitlement.
Which payments can’t you make a claim for?
The most common types of payments that you can’t claim as wages are
- Statutory Sick Pay if your employer says you’re not entitled to it
- Statutory Maternity Pay if your employer says you’re not entitled to it
If your employer says you’re not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay or Statutory Maternity Pay but you think you are, you should contact HM Revenue and Customs.
Is your employer financially stable?
You might not have been paid the money you're owed because your employer has financial problems. If it's unlikely that you'd get the money even if you won your claim, you might want to think about the time and effort of going to a tribunal.