This morning I was unpleasantly surprised to receive a tribunal claim from one of my current employees, alleging discrimination against a line manager. I’m going to take legal advice, but what steps should I take in the short term, and what should I prepare for if the matter goes to a hearing?
Given that the employment tribunal claim is from a current employee, you need to take steps not only to respond to the claim but to deal with the ongoing employment situation.
You need to arrange for a response to the claim to be submitted within 28 days of the date the tribunal sent the paperwork out to you. The notification from the tribunal should have stated the date when the response is due and enclosed a response form – an ET3 – for you to complete. It would be prudent to take legal advice before you submit your response.
Once the tribunal has received your ET3 form it is likely to hold a case management hearing where it will decide on the future conduct of the case, including setting timescales for sharing documents, exchanging witness statements and setting a date for the full hearing. Some tribunals offer mediation and this is worth considering where the claimant is still employed within the organisation.
As part of the tribunal process, Acas will be notified of the claim and a conciliation officer will contact the parties to see if the case can be resolved without going to a hearing.
If the manager is named as the respondent on the paperwork and not the company, then you need to pass the claim on for the manager to respond. In any event it would be prudent to speak to the manager and anyone else in your organisation that is aware of the claim to ensure that the employee is not victimised for bringing the claim.
Given your surprise about the claim, presumably the employee has not raised this issue internally first. There is no obligation on an employee to do so prior to submitting a tribunal claim but now that you are aware of their complaint you should deal with the matter promptly. Invite the employee to discuss the complaint, giving them the right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union official at that meeting. You should reassure the employee that the complaint is being treated seriously and will be dealt with confidentially as far as possible.
If the complaint is one of bullying and harassment, you should use your bullying and harassment procedure (if you have one). Otherwise, follow your grievance procedure, making sure that the employee’s manager is not the person conducting the meetings or investigation. As well as getting details of the employee’s complaint, it is often useful to ask how the employee would like the matter resolved.
You will likewise need to meet with the employee’s manager for further investigation to take place. While the matter is ongoing, consideration should be given to whether or not the employee and manager should be separated while the matter is investigated.
It is advisable to have someone present to take notes at all meetings to investigate the complaint, but remember that any documentation you produce can be disclosed as part of the tribunal process.
Victoria Duddles, associate, Weightmans LLP
XpertHR FAQs on employment tribunal procedures