Pace of tribunal system puts pressure on HR

Faster processing of employment tribunal cases requires HR practitioners to respond quickly and be up-to-date with procedures. The vast majority of cases in central London are now resolved within two or three months, Professor Alan Neal told a seminar on employment tribunals last week.

He said the move toward faster processing – prompted by government performance targets – means HR professionals who do not keep up can find themselves at a disadvantage. Neal, a part-time chairman who sits in the London (central) region, said familiarity with the procedures – especially the time limits for submitting papers – were essential.

“We will lean over backwards to avoid granting postponements. We will clear the decks and we clear them at a hell of a rate.”

He said the reluctance of panels to delay hearings often leaves organisations insufficient time to prepare their case. Worse still, failure to return particular papers on time can lead a tribunal to treat the respondent as if it does not exist, dealing only with material from the aggrieved party’s side.

Neal, professor of law at the University of Warwick, said a similarly robust view was taken of organisations failing to ensure witness availability.

He added, “Discovering the night before that your witness is abroad is not going to get you a postponement, and if that person is essential to your case then you are going to be in trouble.”

Barrister Thomas Kibling told the seminar in central London, organised by employment analysts IRS, to pay particular attention to the case paperwork.

He warned that panels prefer documents to witnesses, and – having read the paperwork – tend to all but make up their mind before the start of unfair dismissal cases. “Panels love documents not people because people are self-serving in their evidence,” Kibling said.


Employment tribunal dos and don’ts

Do


• Provide five copies of any document

• Note any parts of evidence panel members appear particularly interested in

• Talk to the other side and discover what the appellant actually wants and if it can be achieved without a hearing

• Supply documents on time and ensure witnesses are available

• Work out the issues and what you need to prove


Do not


• Marginalise lay members of panel

• Use incomprehensible jargon, dates without years and incomplete names in statements

• Expect to have the case postponed because you have not acted in good time

• Try the patience of panel members by defending the indefensible

• Change your reasons for dismissal leaving you open to a “were you lying then or are you lying now” question

By Helen Rowe

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