Employment law is central to protecting the rights of employers and employees and affects almost every aspect of our working life. It helps create boundaries so that employers and employees can operate in a mutually beneficial way and aims to resolve disputes that occur from time to time between the parties involved.
Below we provide an overview of what this means in practice for employees. In particular, we discuss what employment law is, how it’s enforced and how different types of employment dispute are dealt with by the courts and tribunals, law firms and legal professionals who work to ensure that employment laws are upheld.
This guide covers:
- What is employment law?
- How is employment law enforced?
- What is the role of courts and tribunals in employment law?
- What is the role of law firms in employment law?
- What employment law claims are made most often?
- What different types of employment lawyers are there?
- How much do employment lawyers charge?
- How can you find an employment law firm that’s right for you?
- Next steps
What is employment law?
Employment law ensures that employers and employees have some legal protections in place to safeguard both themselves and their working relationship.
Whether your employer is a small or large organisation, their legal duties and obligations to you as an employee remain essentially the same. Employment laws are designed to create a safe and effective working environment that meets your needs as an employee and your employer’s business needs.
What issues does employment law deal with?
Employment law deals with a range of different aspects of employment, the main ones being set out in your employment contract or statement of employment. They include such issues as employment terms and conditions, dismissal, discrimination, health and safety, sick pay, holiday pay, notice pay, working hours and more.
How is employment law enforced?
Employment law is enforced through a system of employment tribunals and courts. These enable Claimants – employees or workers – who claim they have been treated unlawfully to seek unbiased judgement about those claims and compensation for any ‘detriments’ (loss or harm) from the Respondents – who are usually employers.
Although it’s most common for employees to make claims against existing or former employers, claims are sometimes also made by employers against employees for such wrongdoings as serious breaches of employment contract.
Acas offers a free of charge conciliation service for employees making an employment tribunal claim. Both sides also frequently appoint solicitors on a private basis to handle their respective legal cases, which typically includes negotiating directly with the other side and representing their client in the preparation of employment tribunal or civil court cases.
Just because you may have the grounds for taking a claim to an employment tribunal or civil court, doesn’t mean you have to go all the way down that route.
Even if you’ve already submitted a tribunal claim, it’s often better for you – or your legal representative – to try to negotiate compensation directly with your employer and settle by way of a settlement agreement. You can withdraw a tribunal claim at any stage.
What is the role of courts and tribunals in employment law?
The role of courts and tribunals in employment law is to make judgements about claims submitted by employees against employers, based on the evidence presented by each party. Whether this judgement takes place in a court or tribunal setting depends on the nature of the claim.
The civil courts: county and high courts
Most employment claims are heard in employment tribunals. Some cases can instead be heard in a civil court (county or high court). The most common types of employment claim heard in civil courts are for payments claimed under your contract of employment, eg, unpaid wages or notice pay.
If your case is heard in a civil court, you have longer to lodge it (up to six years), than with an employment tribunal and you do not have to go through Acas. You do, however, have to pay a fee for lodging a claim.
We strongly recommend you take qualified legal advice before proceeding down the civil courts’ route with your employment claim, as it may not necessarily be the best way forward for you.
For further information about employment cases in the civil courts, see this Working Families article.
The employment tribunals
Employment tribunals make judgements solely about employment disputes to do with such practices as unfair dismissal, redundancy and discrimination (and see below). Claims have to be submitted within three months of the date of the incident that you are complaining about. See our guide on employment tribunal time limits for further detail.
You have to make a tribunal claim via Acas who will first offer early conciliation in an attempt to persuade you and your employer to settle your dispute before it reaches the tribunal hearing stage.
The employment appeal tribunal
An employment appeal tribunal handles appeals made by either the employee or the employer against decisions previously made in an employment tribunal. The EAT only usually considers appeals based on questions of law.
Appeals have to be lodged within 42 days of the date when the original tribunal judgement was sent out. See this leaflet from HM Courts & Tribunals leaflet for more.
What is the role of law firms in employment law?
Law firms play a fundamental role in the enforcement of employment law, helping either the employer or employee to state and argue their case, to negotiate a settlement in their favour or to take their case for judgement to a civil court or employment tribunal.
Law firms that include employment law in their portfolio
If you use a law firm that takes on employment law cases in addition to cases in other areas of law, your case will often be handled by solicitors with generalist experience, depending on the size of the firm.
Many such professionals are perfectly able to represent you in a straightforward employment claim.
However, a specialist employment lawyer will be more likely to have the experience required to deal with your claim more effectively, to identify possible additional grounds for claims and to obtain a better financial settlement for you.
Law firms that only practice employment law
Law firms that specialise in employment law are probably best qualified to support individuals looking to make an employment claim.
Specialist employment law firms also employ experienced specialist employment lawyers with the expertise needed to give you the most appropriate legal guidance and advice.
Specialist employment lawyers also have experience in handling cases similar to yours and so can offer you a better chance of winning your case with a higher level of compensation.
Who are clients of employment law firms?
Employment law firms’ clients are employees making claims for unlawful treatment against their employer and employers against whom the claim is being made.
Some employment law firms such as Monaco Solicitors specialise only in helping employees. Others represent employers only, or employers as well as employees (although not in the same case!).
Generally, the more complex your employment claim, the more likely you are to be best served by an experienced specialist employment solicitor.
What employment law claims are made most often?
There is a variety of employment law claims made by employees against previous or current employers (see our list of employment tribunal claims). But there is a core group of claims that tend to be made more often than others, including:
- Unfair dismissal: where the employer is accused of dismissing an employee unfairly or where dismissal procedures have not been correctly followed.
- Breach of contract: where the employer is accused of breaching their employee’s employment contract, by such means as non-payment of wages; or where the employee breaches their contract, for example by refusing to perform contractual duties.
- Working time (annual leave): where an employee claims they weren’t given the legal minimum holiday allowance or the amount stated in their contract.
- Discrimination: where the most common claims are for discrimination by an employer against an employee because of their disability, sex, race or age.
- Redundancy: For example claims that there wasn’t actually a reduction in work so the redundancy was a sham, or that the correct redundancy procedures were not followed.
- Whistleblowing: where an employee is dismissed for whistleblowing (bringing to the attention of the relevant authorities issues in the workplace such as unlawful practices or wrongdoings).
What different types of employment lawyers are there?
‘Employment lawyer’ is a term that includes barristers, solicitors and legal executives. Understanding what each does should help you find the right legal support more quickly.
Although it’s not obligatory for you to have legal representation when making an employment claim, it does help you to get the best legal and financial outcomes and can more than pay for itself if your case is a good one.
An employment barrister (broadly equivalent to an advocate in Scotland) can represent either an employee or employer in a court or at a tribunal and presents their case to judges. They usually work closely with the solicitors who have prepared their clients’ tribunal cases.
In England and Wales, qualified barristers are members of the Bar Council which is the association that authorises who can practise as a barrister in those parts of the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland have equivalent bodies.
In the main, employment solicitors deal with the legal work needed to prepare for an employment case at an employment tribunal or other court. When a case is taking place at a tribunal or court, an employment solicitor typically supports the barrister presenting the case. Some solicitors are also qualified to act as barristers.
Outside of tribunals, solicitors advise clients on their legal options and carry out negotiations on their clients’ behalf. All solicitors are members of the Law Society the professional body for qualified solicitors (with separate variations for Scotland, Northern Ireland and England and Wales).
Solicitors’ professional conduct is regulated by a separate body. In England and Wales, it is the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own equivalent frameworks.
Legal executives are qualified legal professionals and many specialise in employment law. They are similar to solicitors and can provide the same kinds of legal advice and other services. The main difference is that the training of a legal executive is generally narrower than that of a solicitor.
Legal executives are members of CILEX (Chartered Institute for Legal Executives), the professional body for legal executives, paralegals and legal secretaries.
How much do employment lawyers charge?
Fees charged to clients who want to use an employment lawyer can vary greatly depending on the individual company and the complexity of the case.
An employment law firm’s fees will typically be for such services as carrying out legal employment case reviews, taking on ‘no win, no fee’ employment cases, settlement agreement signing and one-off tasks, such as legal letter writing or helping someone put together their employment tribunal submission.
To give you an idea of how much the fees actually are, you can see those charged by Monaco Solicitors on our Fees page. Most – but not all – employment law firms publish their own similar fee information.
How can you find an employment law firm that’s right for you?
Until a few years ago, you would have had little choice but to seek legal representation from a local law firm.
However, technological advances now enable many law firms to offer you their services irrespective of distance, with most communications taking place by phone, email, video and other technology-based means.
The courts and tribunals are also making greater use of video and other technologies for case hearings, so the requirement to meet your lawyer or barrister in person for a tribunal hearing is diminishing.
To find a good employment law firm for your case, you can try one or more of the following:
Search online: The best place to get some good leads is by searching online. If you find a firm that appears to be successful in employment cases like yours, have a look at any online reviews and testimonials to see what other people are saying about them.
Request information on previous cases: When you find a law firm you think could be the right fit, ask for examples of previous similar cases and outcomes, to get an idea of their capabilities.
Use the Law Society website to check that an individual solicitor is actually fully qualified to act as your legal representative.
Use the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) website to check that the law firm you’ve located has an SRA ID number and so is a genuine legal enterprise. You can also check out the practice record of the individual lawyer to be assigned to your case and ensure that they hold a current practising certificate.
Ask colleagues, family and friends: Word of mouth recommendation is nearly always a good indicator and it’s worth asking around.
If you’ve experienced an issue at work and believe you have been treated unfairly you may be thinking about seeking professional legal advice.
At Monaco Solicitors, we’ve helped thousands of employees to explore their legal options and successfully negotiate a fair financial settlement. We specialise in employment law for employees only and our team can offer expert guidance based on years of experience helping employees who have found themselves in a similar situation to yours.