How Do I Handle It?
For July 2017, we have asked the employment team to provide practical answers to unusual, sensitive or complex work related queries. We call this feature “how do I handle it?”
The articles are aimed at HR professionals and other managers who may need to deal from time to time with the less common place disputes at work; issues that may, if handled incorrectly, lead to claims of discrimination or constructive dismissal or some other serious difficulty.
This month’s problem concerns:
“I am a HR Manager in a Company and have just been passed a letter and Claim Form from the Industrial Tribunal. The Claim Form is from an existing employee. Do I have to respond to this claim and if so, when?
You have 28 days in which to lodge a formal written Response to the employee’s claim. The actual date before which the Response should be lodged will be stated on the Tribunal’s letter.
If you do not enter a Response within the timescale given on the Tribunal’s letter, or apply for an extension of time in which to lodge a Response, the Tribunal does have the power to mark a default judgment against the Company. If you do not enter a Response, the Company is not normally entitled to take any part in the conduct of the employment tribunal proceedings.
If however you do wish to defend the claim, but do not have sufficient time within the 28 day period to do so, you may apply to the Tribunal for an extension of time in which to lodge your Response. Such an application is made in writing to the Tribunal, sending it also to the employee or his/her representative, and setting out your reasons for the application of time, and the date on which you think you will be in a position to lodge the Response. You will usually receive a prompt reply from the Tribunal in relation to that application.
You do not mention whether the employee is currently involved in an ongoing grievance process or if so, what stage that grievance procedure may have reached. It may be that the employee is involved in an internal grievance process and you would wish to await the outcome of that, compile information etc. before lodging a formal response. This might be a valid reason for making an application to extend time in order to allow you to prepare and lodge the Company’s Response, once the grievance process has been completed and all necessary information gathered.
You should be aware however that an internal process, including an appeal against dismissal, will not usually alter any statutory time limits. Also, the issue of the employment proceedings should not affect the grievance process or its outcome.
If for some reason the Claim Form and letter from the Tribunal have come to your attention after the 28 day period, you can still prepare a formal Response on behalf of the Company, lodge that at Tribunal and, at the same time, apply to extend the 28 day period, again giving full reasons for that application. The response and application should also be copied to the employee/his or her representative.
You may wish to seek legal advice on the contents of the Claim Form and how best to prepare the Company’s reply. You should ensure that all appropriate information is collected in order to draft and lodge a reply to all of the employee’s allegations. It may be that the Company has grounds for refuting the employee’s allegations and also there could be a statutory defence to the claim e.g. it is time barred, all of which should be included in the Response.
The main content of this article was provided by Patricia Rooney of Tughans Solicitors in Belfast. Patricia works exclusively in Employment Law and should anyone have any queries she may be contacted on:-
028 9055 3300
While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.