Workplace problems

If you think your employer has treated you unfairly, it’s important to get legal advice as soon as possible. Employment law is complex and if you’re going to take your complaint to an employment tribunal, you’ll have to meet specific and tight deadlines.

A solicitor can:

  • explain your options
  • tell you if you have a legal case against your employer
  • help you decide whether your case is worth taking further
  • explain what you should do next

Finding a solicitor

To find a solicitor who specialises in employment law, visit our Find a Solicitor website and search under 'Employment'.

If you need more help using this service:

Solicitors' costs

Charges can vary between solicitors, and will depend on:

  • how complicated your case is
  • how involved they are in your case
  • the solicitor's experience and knowledge

Your solicitor will explain the fee arrangements options if your case goes to a tribunal. For example, you could agree a 'contingency fee' where your solicitor gets an agreed percentage of the pay-out if you win.

Trade union members

If you’re a member of a trade union, you may be able to get legal advice from a solicitor appointed by your union.

Trade union members are normally entitled to free legal help from a trade union official or from a solicitor employed by the union. Check with your workplace representative or your union's regional office.

Home contents insurance

It’s worth checking your household contents insurance policy because it can sometimes cover legal expenses for employment problems. If it does, you can choose your own solicitor.

Types of claim

Unfair dismissal

Dismissal is the legal term for being sacked. If you’ve been dismissed in a way that is not allowed by law, you can challenge it.

You can only claim for unfair dismissal if:

However, some dismissals may be ‘automatically unfair’. This means the two-year rule does not apply and you’re protected by law from the first day of your employment.

Automatically unfair dismissals include those due to:

  • health and safety issues
  • discrimination as recognised by law
  • whistleblowing (telling your employer or someone else about anything illegal or dangerous you know is happening at work)

Dismissal can also be automatically unfair if it happened because you asked for something that you have a legal right to, such as:

  • paid leave
  • a minimum wage
  • a written contract
  • an itemised pay statement
  • leave for family reasons including pregnancy or maternity
  • a written statement of your terms and conditions of employment

Discrimination

You’re protected against certain types of discrimination based on your:

  • age
  • sex
  • race
  • disability
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • marriage and civil partnership

If you believe you’re receiving unfair treatment for any of these reasons, you may have a discrimination claim.

You can make a claim if unlawful treatment happens at any stage of your employment.

This includes how you were treated before you were employed, such as when you applied for the job, as well as after your employment ended. Your solicitor can tell you more about this.

Starting the process

Once you’ve found a solicitor, you should explain your situation briefly over the phone and set a date for a meeting. You should tell the solicitor:

  • the dates of any events you’re concerned about
  • if you plan to bring someone with you to the meeting

It may be helpful to email them the history of your problem before the meeting.

You should also ask what documents you need to bring.

What will happen at the meeting

Your solicitor is likely to ask you:
  • how much you earn
  • the details of your problem at work
  • how long you’ve worked for your employer
  • what events have led to your current situation
  • what, if anything, you’ve already done to sort out the matter
  • whether there are any documents you do not have that might be relevant to the case

Next steps

If your solicitor believes you have a case and you want to take it further, they'll help you decide how you’re going to do this.

If you have not already done so, you should try to sort out the problem directly with your employer first. This is because:

  • it can be the quickest way to resolve problems
  • employment tribunals can reduce your compensation if you haven't used your employer’s internal procedures first

Your solicitor can help you set out your case and, if appropriate, try to negotiate a settlement for you.

If you’re happy to negotiate directly with your employer, your solicitor can advise you how to do this.

Following your employer's procedures

You should try to go to any meetings that are arranged and use any appeal procedures that are available if:

  • you’ve started your employer's complaints process
  • your employer has started to take action against you (for example, about your behaviour, the quality of your work, your ability to do your job or your attendance)

An employment solicitor can look at papers with you and tell you what to ask at meetings.

Making a claim

You’ll need to set out the facts, in chronological order, and state what claims you’re making. It’s a good idea to get legal advice about this because there are many types of employment law claims, and rules on time limits are complicated.

Reaching an agreement

If you can reach an agreement with your employer without going to a tribunal, this can be recorded in a 'settlement agreement’. This is a legal document which confirms what you and your employer have agreed. It will mean that you’ll have to give up the legal claims against your employer.

Your employer will usually pay some of your legal costs as part of the agreement. By law you must get independent legal advice before this agreement is valid.

Settlement agreements often contain confidentiality clauses, sometimes called non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Read about non-disclosure agreements 

Employment tribunals

If you cannot solve the problem quickly with your employer, you may want to take it to an employment tribunal.

Your solicitor can help by preparing your case or representing you at the tribunal.

Employment tribunals consist of:

  • an employment judge who will run the proceedings
  • someone with relevant experience to represent the employer
  • someone with relevant experience to represent the employee

It’s up to the tribunal to:

  • apply the law
  • decide whether your claim against your employer is correct (called ‘upholding the claim’)

Before the hearing, you may be offered judicial mediation, which gives you the option of reaching a settlement with an employer confidentially, without the need for a full hearing. Find out more about judicial mediation.

Time limits

How long you have to take your claim to a tribunal will depend on what it’s about.

Being dismissed

Most employment tribunal claims must be made within three calendar months of the date you were dismissed (that is, no later than three months less one day from the day you were dismissed allowing for any extension of time by ACAS Early Conciliation).

Statutory redundancy payments

You have six months from the date you were dismissed to make your claim to the tribunal.

Breach of contract

Your employer can counter-claim against you and it’s best to get legal advice before making this claim.

The outcome

Some employment tribunal decisions are announced straight away, some follow in writing.

If the tribunal decides in your favour, it can award you compensation. Or, if you’ve been unfairly dismissed, it must consider ordering your employer to give you your job back (if you want it), although this is rare.

If you’re awarded compensation, the amount you receive will depend on:

  • the type of case – there are limits on certain cases
  • how much money you’ve lost because of your employer’s actions
  • your age, length of service and salary

If you win your tribunal case, the award usually compensates you for money you’ve lost.

In 2018/19:

  • the average award for unfair dismissal claims was £13,704
  • the highest award for a discrimination case was £416,015

In the period October to December 2019, the average time to process a single Employment Tribunal claim was 26 weeks.

Paying for employment tribunal costs

Usually each side pays their own costs (solicitor’s fees), and usually you do not get awarded costs if you win. Your solicitor can advise you more about this.

Tribunals can order you to pay your employer's costs if you’ve made an unreasonable claim. The tribunal can also order your employer to pay your costs if they’ve acted unreasonably in defending your claim.

Legal aid

You will not be able to claim legal aid to pay for a solicitor to represent you at a tribunal.

More information

There’s more information in our leaflet Your guide to problems at work:

Alternative formats

We can make this information available in other formats and selected languages on request. Email accessibility@lawsociety.org.uk for more information.

Disclaimer

While we have made every effort to provide accurate information, the law is always changing and affects each person differently. This information is no substitute for specific advice about you personally and we will not be liable to you if you rely on this information.

Find a solicitor

Search the official database of professionals

Find out more
Find a solicitor