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Employment law at work


Mon 1 July, 2019

Employment law judge hammer

Employment law at work

A lot has been written in this space about the dangers and consequences of breaching employment law and it is worth looking at how that law is actually enforced.

Employment legislation affords protection to employees against mistreatment, it makes sure they are paid a fair salary and that they are not subjected to discriminatory treatement.

Going through the legal process can start with a dispute between an employer and an employee, more often a former employee, or a rejected job applicant. In some cases it can end up in the European court system.

Employment law is classified as civil law or private law and it is applied when one party known as the ‘Claimant’ sues another party known as the ‘Respondent’.

Reasons for an employment matter reaching the courts can vary. They can include a claim for breach of contract, unlawful deduction from wages, unfair dismissal and discrimination.

There has been widespread publicity around high profile UK and European court rulings in employment cases.

A former university professor was awarded nearly £3.5m by an employment tribunal after claiming he was discriminated against and harassed (1). It was reported that the university failed to turn up at the tribunal, which led to the unusually high sum being awarded.

In a decision that affected all EU countries a European Court of Human Rights judgement ruled that employers should give employees explicit warnings if they want to monitor their internet use. (2). It followed a case involving a Romanian engineer who was sacked for exchanging messages on an office account with his fiancée about his sexual health.

UK employment law is created in Parliament through the law-making process, in the courts through legal judgements and in European Union institutions. When Brexit is finally resolved it is unclear what the impact it will have on employment law in the UK.

Before a matter reaches an employment tribunal ACAS must be notified of the intention to lodge a claim. Its early conciliation service provides an opportunity to settle a dispute without having to go to court (3).

If an agreement cannot be reached the individual making the claim will be issued with an early conciliation certificate. The employee must obtain the certificate before presenting their ET1 form, which provides a statement about the case, to an employment tribunal (4)

Employment tribunals are an independent judiciary body responsible for hearing claims from people who think they have been treated unlawfully. It can hear a range of claims including those for discrimination, whistleblowing and unfair dismissal.

The tribunal setting is less formal than a court, most hearings are open to the public and evidence is taken on oath.

Depending on the nature of the case, the decision may be given orally on the day and confirmed in writing with a full explanation shortly after. In complex cases, a tribunal is likely to delay making a decision, known as ‘reserving judgement’.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to accept the tribunal’s decision if it has gone against you. If you are not happy with a decision you can appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) if you think a legal mistake was made in an employment tribunal case (5)

For example, you could appeal if it:

  • got the law wrong
  • did not apply the correct law
  • did not follow the correct procedures and this affected the decision
  • had no evidence to support its decision
  • was unfairly biased towards the other party

Appeals of EAT rulings go to the Court of Appeal, but you need leave from the EAT to do this. Appeal from the Court of Appeal is to the Supreme Court. It is after this stage that matters can end up in the European courts.

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For free employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611


  1. BBC [Internet] https://www.bbc.co.uk [Accessed on 24th June 2019] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-48628394
  2. European of Human rights [Internet] https://www.theguardian.com [Accessed on 24.6.19] https://www.theguardian.com/law/2017/sep/05/romanian-chat-messages-read-by-employer-had-privacy-breached-court-rules
  3. ACAS [Internet] http://www.acass.org.uk [Accessed on 24.6.19] http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4028.
  4. ET1 Form [Internet] https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com [Accessed on 24.6.19] https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/5-200-3221?transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default)&firstPage=true&bhcp=1.
  5. Employment Tribunal [Internet] https://www.gov.uk [Accessed on 24.6.19] https://www.gov.uk/appeal-employment-appeal-tribunal/if-you-lose-your-case.


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