Thursday, 13 July 2017

Unrepresented struggle with employment tribunals

I was surprised by the harsh line taken by the employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal in a case summary prepared by James English of Hempson’s Solicitors and circulated by barrister Daniel Barnett in his excellent employment law bulletin.

The Claimant brought several claims, including constructive dismissal, against his former employer.

Perhaps he didn’t have legal expenses insurance because he initially contacted ACAS for Early Conciliation without any legal representation.  The claimant named a director of the business as the party he wished to make his claim against (the Respondent). It seems that in this case matters could not be resolved through ACAS Early Conciliation and the claimant instructed solicitors to prepare his Claim Form to pursue the matter at tribunal.

The solicitors correctly named the claimant’s ex-employer, 'SNA Transport Limited' as Respondent.  The employment tribunal rejected his claim as the Respondent had not been correctly identified on the Early Conciliation Certificate. His solicitors applied to the tribunal to reconsider that decision on the basis that the use of the director's name was a "minor error", which (under the rules) allows a tribunal to overlook it.

The employment tribunal rejected that application taking the view that confusing the director with the company was not a minor error, and it had been right to reject the claim. The Claimant appealed.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal, although sympathetic, rejected the Claimant's application. It said that a two stage test should be applied. Firstly, was it a minor error? If not, the claim would be rejected. Secondly, if it was, the tribunal should go on to consider whether or not it was in the interests of justice to allow the claim to proceed. Although in principle the distinction between a natural and a legal person could amount to a minor error, in this case it did not. Each case should be considered on its facts, and as there was no error in the tribunal's Judgment, the Claimant's appeal was dismissed.

I’m disappointed about this decision as it’s an easy mistake for someone who is acting without legal representation to make.
The case does however underpin the value of legal expenses insurance for ACAS Early Conciliation.  Although the system was designed with the intention that employees should negotiate without legal assistance it is not free of obstacles. If this claimant had taken out LEI, the error in completing the ACAS form would have been avoided, allowing him to pursue his action at tribunal. Additionally, the insurance would have covered the Tribunal fees and legal costs incurred.

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