Tribunal Case Highlights the Importance of Taking Advice Early in Employment Disputes
George Miller’s client, a small-business owner, had received a Tribunal claim from a former employee for unpaid wages and discrimination. The business had been run through a limited company, however in the Tribunal claim the claimant had named the individual owner as the employer. As he wasn’t the correct respondent to the claim, he emailed the Tribunal to let them know that the company was the employer and left matters there.
Unfortunately, the Tribunal continued to process the claim. As a defence wasn’t submitted, the Claimant obtained a default judgment against our client and an order for damages of nearly £20,000. It was only at this point, having received notification that the Claimant was trying to enforce the judgment, we were instructed to defend the claim. By then it was over 6 months from when a defence should have been submitted.
The client needed to prepare and submit a defence to the claim, plus an application asking the Tribunal to accept the defence out of time. When deciding whether to accept the defence the Tribunal would consider the length of any delay, so time was of the essence. George Miller prepared and submitted detailed defence to the claims and an application for it to be accepted out of time within 24 hours of receiving a copy of the claim.
Unfortunately, the Tribunal declined to accept the defence out of time as too much time had passed. Even where a defence has merit, a Tribunal will expect you to submit it in time and the more time that passes, the harder it will be to persuade the Tribunal to allow you to defend the claim. In this case, we could not overcome the passage of time between the defence originally being due and the date when a defence was eventually submitted.
This case was a harsh lesson for my client and it illustrates the importance of seeking legal advice as soon as you discover a Tribunal claim has been made against you, even if you believe it has been brought against the wrong person or body. My client believed they had done all they needed to by informing the Tribunal that he was not the employer, but to properly defend the claim he needed to submit a defence. Our client was also unaware that he could be personally sued for discrimination, even though he was not the legal person who was the employer. Had our client taken advice earlier, we could have helped him defend the claim on its merits and this case would very likely have reached a different outcome.
If you are a business owner or employer seeking to defend claims made against you or to implement good employment practices to avoid such claims arising, learn more about our employment service for employers and get in touch today.