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Battling with Employment Tribunals

In the course of our wanderings through the Looking Glass world of HR we meet some brilliant people who a) make sense of it; b) give good advice and c) have a sense of humour and thus keep us sane. My favourite employment solicitor and blog guest Hywel Griffiths reports from the front line.

Greetings from the Employment Tribunal front line! These are just a few words from one who spends far too much time there which I hope will help you avoid the worst if you ever have the misfortune to find yourself there.

Funny chaps employment judges. They see themselves as the guardians of good employment practice. No matter how good a reason you have for giving a ne’er-do-well employee the heave-ho, if you haven’t made a nod in the direction of following a fair process, expect to get caned.

This came home to me the other day when one of my clients (who had contacted me when a claim form landed on his mat) sat in the hot seat at the East London ET. Notwithstanding the fact that the employee had subjected my poor client to a volley of abuse and foul language, the Employment Judge took a dim view of the fact that he’d sacked her on the spot. He subjected an already stiff award to a 25% uplift. Ouch!

The other moral I have picked up from this month’s proceedings is – Keep it simple, stupid. This followed a further case, this time at Reading, where I represented the claimant. The employer called pretty much every senior manager he could find, quite unnecessarily, forgetting that the purpose of witnesses is to be duffed up, intimidated and befuddled by wicked advocates. When you call two witnesses when one would have done, you add the risk that one will contradict the other.

If you’re ever faced with the prospect of a day at the Employment Tribunal, try to put yourself in the Employment Judge’s shoes:

  • You might be convinced that no-one in their right mind will be taken in by your opponent’s lies, but spend some time doing your preparation so that the message gets across. Tell your tale clearly in a witness statement.
  • Where you have documents which support your case, disclose them and refer to them in your witness statement. Bear in mind that you are supposed to put your cards on the table: if you keep crucial documents up your sleeve until the last minute, don’t be surprised if the Employment Judge prevents you from referring to them.
  • Put any relevant documents you have in a bundle for the Tribunal, but don’t clog up the bundle with a load of old nonsense which adds nothing.

Spend some time thinking about what you would find persuasive if the boot was on the other foot and you were the chap who had to decide the case. How can you get him on your side by convincing him that you are a model of courtesy, objectivity and good judgement – even if you lapse from perfection occasionally - and not the monster your opponent would have him believe you are.

I have only one more day in tribunal before I take a break from litigating for Christmas.

Compliments of the season.

Hywel Griffiths is an employment consultant with Ashton KCJ Solicitors

Ashton KCJ was established following the merger of Ashton Graham and Kester Cunningham John on 1st October 2011. The firm employs 300 people in East Anglia and as such is one of the region’s largest and most prominent law firms. It has extensive geographic coverage, with offices in the main commercial centres along the A14 and A11 corridors – Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Felixstowe and Thetford.

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