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Employment Law Update – Preparing witnesses for Employment Tribunal

During an employment law workshop recently, we discussed the role of witnesses. If you have dismissed an employee or dealt with the appeal and there’s a subsequent employment tribunal claim, you’re probably going to have to give evidence.

It can be quite daunting, so I thought I’d put together some notes to help witnesses prepare for what to expect and how to deal with being a witness. A tribunal is a public hearing, so members of the public or journalists may be present during the hearing.

Before giving evidence you will be required to stand while you either take the oath or affirm. An oath can be taken on a holy book which the tribunal will have. The alternative is an affirmation which is a solemn civil promise which is not linked to a religious belief.

Witness evidence will be given, either by the witness reading his statement out loud. Alternatively, the tribunal may take the statements “as read”, in which case it will not be necessary for you to read it out loud. The employer’s legal representative may ask additional questions to expand on or clarify the evidence you have given.

The claimant’s representative will then have the opportunity to question you closely about issues referred to in the witness statement and associated issues. This is referred to as “cross-examination”.

The members of the panel may also have some questions. At the end of these questions you will be able to stand down. If there is a break in the hearing whilst you are giving evidence, for example over lunch or overnight, you will be unable to discuss the matter with anyone because you will continue to be under oath.

Tomorrow’s blog will provide some tips on how to be a good witness. The vast majority of tribunal claims (80%) settle or are withdrawn. With tribunal claims increasing and the cost of preparing and defending a claim running at about £8,000 to win, it pays to be prepared. If you can do some of the preparatory work, you can save a substantial amount.

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