I Was Taken to an Employment Tribunal: A Case Study
Employment tribunals are many firms’ worst nightmare. The process of being taken to tribunal by a disgruntled employee can be a long, difficult, and potentially expensive one – and it is something that most people would like to avoid.
But employment tribunals are a fact of life. They are there to offer protection, and they are pretty effective at this. That does not, however, make them any more appealing a prospect for employers. We spoke to a London-based franchise owner, who wished to remain anonymous, about his tribunal experiences.
Young Company“Unluckily, I was taken to tribunal by my very first employee,” he said. “Mine was a small franchise, and I had hired him about six months after we started.
“I eventually sacked him summarily after I found that he had been stealing money from the till. It was obviously quite unpleasant, but to be honest after a few days I stopped thinking about it. I just presumed it was over.
“So it was quite a surprise when, a fortnight later, I got a letter from his solicitor telling me that the guy intended to take me to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.”
The franchise owner was shocked to receive the letter, and initially did not know how to proceed. “As far as I was concerned theft was a pretty good reason to sack someone. I didn’t feel too worried, because I was confident I could defend myself at a tribunal. But I just didn’t know what to do in the short term.”
Legal AdviceThe franchise owner hired a solicitor of his own to advise him. “We didn’t have a lawyer at that time, so I had to look for one. I told him exactly what had happened. By this time, I had also received a letter from the Tribunals Service saying that a claim had been made against me and that I needed to respond.
“Basically, my lawyer told me that I had two options. I could respond to the claim, saying that I disputed it and that I wanted to argue my case at tribunal. Or, I could settle with the guy now.”
The franchise owner was confused by this. “As I say, I was confident that I would win. But I wasn’t prepared to defend myself – I wanted to have a solicitor help me. And then I realised what that would cost.
“Basically, it looked like it was going to cost me about £8,000 to go to tribunal. Our solicitors spoke, and it became clear that he would settle for less than half that. So that’s what we did.”
OutcomeDespite the case not ending up in expensive litigation, the franchise owner was unhappy with the outcome. “It seems stupid to me that I can’t defend myself, basically because it’s too expensive. It particularly grates that I’m having to pay out when I haven’t done anything wrong.
“I realise that employees who have genuine claims have exactly the same problem. But it seems to me that the whole process needs to be much cheaper, on both sides.”