gavelDisputes between employer and employee are usually dealt with by an Employment Tribunal (ET).

The case is decided by the ET at a public hearing (unless an application for a closed hearing due to matters confidential has been granted) and is heard by an ET judge and two lay members. The judge is a solicitor or a barrister and the lay members each represent management and trade unions respectively.

You do not need to be legally represented, although nowadays the complexity of employment law is such that most employers instruct solicitors as soon as they receive the claim, if not before.

The two sides present their respective cases at the hearing. They do so by calling each of their witnesses in turn. Each witness begins by reading from a witness statement, which will have been exchanged previously with the other side. The witness can then be cross-examined by the opposing side or their solicitor or barrister.

In unfair dismissal cases, the employer (the Respondent) usually presents his case first. In other claims it is usually the employee (the Claimant) who starts.

Frequently the ET will need to look at the relevant documents at the same time as it hears the evidence. The witnesses may well be asked questions on those documents when they give their evidence. It is therefore crucial that witnesses are properly prepared for the hearing by making sure that they are familiar with all of the documents.

The witnesses give their evidence seated at a table. They are required to take an oath that their evidence will be true. Once all of the evidence has been heard, each side will then be entitled to sum up their case. This is an opportunity to focus the judge and lay members on the relevant issues.

The panel may give its judgment on the same day as the hearing. On other occasions the panel members may have to meet again in order to complete their discussions about the case before they can reach a judgment. The time taken to make the judgment depends upon the complexity of the case and the amount of time available on the day of the hearing.

In either event the ET has to provide the judgment in writing to the two parties. Judgments can be appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal within 42 days of it being sent to the parties. However an appeal is only allowed on grounds that the ET has misunderstood the law.