Employment tribunals have been a popular topic in the industry since the independent body, the Law Commission, recommended that they should be given powers to:
- Award up to £100,000
- Deal with disputes where employees are still in work
- Double the claim period to 6 months in response to the pandemic
The significance of these changes could be huge after COVID-19 starts to lessen. Disgruntled workers who have worked excessive hours or feel mistreated will have a longer period to raise their case, in addition to an anticipating rise in unfair dismissal claims, discrimination and redundancy disputes. The resulting pay-out of this could terminate your business’ chances of recovery.
If you can’t settle a case within the workplace and you are forced to escalate, you best be prepared. Giving evidence against a potential colleague or friend can be an unsettling experience.
To help get you started, we’ve collated some top tips so that you can keep your cool.
It goes without saying that it is vital to represent your organisation well in front of the judge – and the first step is knowing the right etiquette.
We’ve all seen plenty of films that depict a tribunal and, for those that have never experienced it first-hand, that may be all they have to go off. But life isn’t an episode of Judge Judy, so how should you act?
Simply put, you want to come across as professional, competent and likeable.
- Dress smartly
- Be punctual – arriving at least 30 minutes before you are due
- Follow all instructions
- Address the judge/panel correctly – as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’
- Show respect by standing whenever the judge and panel enter or exit the room
It is also important to remember that you are being analysed from the get-go, not just when you’re holding the floor. You will need to be conscious of your body language and refrain from showing frustration.
Although the system itself is not designed to trip you up, some people end up tripping over their own feet due to nerves – this is perfectly normal. However, to present yourself as a pro, communicate effectively with our handy tips below.
Give Straight Answers to Straight Questions
A common mistake we often see is the need to fill silence.
Although it’s important to provide sufficient detail in response to a question, the judge will normally indicate whether they have understood or need you to expand further. Therefore, be conscious of not waffling and remember to speak slowly and clearly to illustrate that you are calm and collected.
Don’t give the opposition any leverage with your position – ensure you display confidence in your case.
By using language, such as “would have,” you indicate uncertainty in your own statement. Instead, use less assuming language that reassures the judge that you remember, such as “I did…” and stick to the facts.
In the case that you don’t remember, or you’re not sure, it is best to be upfront about your weaknesses rather than covering them up.
Direct Your Answers to the Panel
When you’re answering a question, regardless of who asks, it is important that you reply to the judge or panel. This can feel quite unnatural at first. Remember, you are trying to help the judge see your way, not the opposition, so direct your answer accordingly.
TOP TIP: Point your feet in the judge’s direction to remind yourself where to look when you speak!
Giving evidence can feel uncomfortable, especially if you’re friendly with the person/s in question. However, it is your sworn oath and legal obligation to tell the truth, so do not be swayed by any personal bias you may have.
When answering a question, take your time to think through your reply. If any evidence you provide is found to be false or inaccurate, no matter how small or unrelated to the case, the opposition will try to use this to define your character and determine how trustworthy you are.
Again, this is not a memory test. If you don’t remember, be honest and admit it rather than making assumptions or guesses.
Using the Bundle
It is standard procedure that relevant documentation, referred to as the ‘bundle’ will be collected ahead of your tribunal date. Any document that is likely to be referred to should be placed into a bundle for use by the judge, witnesses and other relevant parties. It may include items, such as:
- Witness statements
- Evidence of loss of earnings
- Evidence of misconduct
- Contract details
- Previous communications and efforts to resolve the issue
You will have access to a co
py of the bundle in advance, so be sure to take the time to familiarise yourself with this and mark relevant pages if necessary. It is also recommended to re-read your witness statement the night before, to ensure you have a clear recollection of events.
During the hearing, if it would be helpful to refer to the document, ask to do so and take a moment to remind yourself before speaking.
As a respectable professional, you’ll have likely been exposed to some office conflict or butting heads. However, this may seem like horseplay after being exposed to a distressed and angry opposition at a tribunal, so it is important to be resilient.
Providing evidence at an employment tribunal can be an uncomfortable experience but remember not to take it personally – it is the opposition’s job to question your character and discredit you and the judge’s role to determine a just ruling.
It’s not nice having someone doubt your honesty, competency and professionalism. However, it is important not to become frustrated, offended or visibly upset. The opposition will look for weakness and exploit this.
Instead, focus on remaining clear and open to questioning.
Prepare for their attack
Below are a few common techniques that may be used to discredit or unnerve you by the opposition.
- Pressuring you into inaccurate statements – often, the opposition may try and pressure you into a black or white situation when it may be a shade of grey. Ensure you look out for this and stick to your grounds.
- They ask “is it possible that…” to try and lead you into an admission or inaccurate statement. It is important that you answer this factually but be careful of your language.
- They may use cross-examinations to check your facts and statement.
- They may interrupt you to disrupt your thoughts or try and elicit a reaction.
Your focus should remain on telling the truth and remaining calm. Try your best not to become frustrated, offended or upset. Although it can be upsetting having to escalate an issue, if you’re telling the truth, there is nothing to hide.
How do I become Resilient?
According to MIND, “Resilience is not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing.”
The good news is, resilience is not a personality trait – it is something we must all takes steps to achieve. We can do this by making some adjustments:
- Make some lifestyle changes
- Look after your physical health
- Give yourself a break
- Build your support network
The charity MIND has some useful resources to help you get started here.
Need more advice?
If you’re preparing for an employment tribunal and you’re in need of some expert advice, please get in contact here.
Citizen’s advice also offers some helpful, free guidance that you may find useful on their website here.