law 2If you've had a problem at work you may have rights under employment law. There are protections in place to help you with all manner of employment problems such as being unfairly picked for redundancy, being denied flexible working for childcare or being discriminated against because you're pregnant.

Matthew Bradbury, Senior Employment Expert at Citizens Advice, sets out what steps you can take if you’ve got a problem at work: 

  1. Talk to your boss. You should always try to resolve a problem at work by speaking to your employer or sending them a letter. If you need help you can contact Citizens Advice for support. If you’re a member of a trade union it’s also worth asking if it can help.

    If the issue isn’t resolved, your employer should have a formal procedure for raising a grievance. Citizens Advice has a template grievance letter you can use. The manager who deals with your grievance should be impartial and not involved with what’s happened so far. If still not resolved, you might want to take your complaint to an employment tribunal.
  2. Don’t miss the three-month deadline to start Acas early conciliation. Acas is a government-funded body whose job is to help resolve workplace disputes. Before you can start a tribunal claim the law requires you to start Acas early conciliation. You must do this in three months minus one day from the date when the problem you are complaining about happened (you have six months minus a day for a claim about a redundancy payment or an equal pay claim). For example if you weren’t paid your wages on 31 October, you have to tell Acas that you want to make a tribunal claim no later than 30 January.

    When you tell Acas you want to make a tribunal claim, it will try to help you reach an agreement with your employer before you make the claim. This conciliation process can last up to six weeks. It may result in a ‘settlement’ of your claim, where the employer agrees to resolve your problem and pay you any money you’re owed.  

  3. If this doesn’t work you’ll have around a month to escalate to an employment tribunal. If you can’t reach an agreement through early conciliation, Acas will send you an early conciliation certificate.

    You will then always have at least one month from the date on the certificate to take your case to an employment tribunal. In some cases, depending on when the problem happened and when you contacted Acas, you might have slightly longer than a month.

    It is very important you don’t miss the deadline, as in many cases, you’ll lose your right to go to an employment tribunal.

    If you decide to go ahead, you’ll have to make a claim by filling in an ET1 form online. Your employer will then be asked to fill in a form. See Starting an employment tribunal claim.

  4. The tribunal will make a decision. When you’ve made your claim, it will start moving towards a hearing date. The average wait time for an individual’s case on unfair dismissal or discrimination to be decided is nine months, though this can vary depending on the type of case etc. Acas will get involved again to see if there’s another chance to settle your claim. The tribunal will contact you to tell you what you need to do to start preparing for the hearing. At the hearing, both you and your employer will put your sides forward, this could include providing evidence, witness statements and cross-examination. In most cases your claim will be decided by a judge but in discrimiantion claims or more complex claims there will be two panel members helping the judge to reach a decision.

If you need advice about your situation or more information about challenging an unfair redundancy or problem at work contact us today for free, confidential and impartial advice:  

  • To speak to an adviser over the phone Call us on freephone 0800 144 88 48. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Please note our 'drop in' service and face to face appointments are temporarily suspended until further notice, due to the Coronavirus outbreak. For the time being, we will be operating a telephone and email only service.

More information you may find helpful:


The top five employment tribunal mythbusters: 

  • Can I get legal aid if I’m on a low income? You can’t get legal aid for employment tribunal cases unless your case includes a discrimination claim. Organisations such as Citizens Advice may be able to support you and provide relevant resources and guidance. See Finding free or affordable legal help for more information.

  • Do I need to pay a fee? You don’t need to pay a fee to make an employment tribunal claim. 

  • Could I have to pay my employer’s legal costs? You don’t automatically have to pay your employer’s legal costs if you lose the case. Order to pay costs are made in less than 1% of cases, in situations where, for example, the tribunal thinks you’ve brought a hopeless case that had no chance of success, or you’ve turned down a good offer to settle. If a solicitor representing your employer tells you they are going to ask the tribunal to make you pay their legal costs, you should get advice quickly.
    If you asked someone to represent you at the employment tribunal you may have to pay them, depending on what you agreed.

  • Do I need a solicitor? You don’t need a solicitor, but many people find it helpful to get some advice before they take action. Tribunal claims can involve complicated legal questions, and you need to understand the law that relates to your claim. See What help can I get with a problem at work for information on which organisations may be able to help.
    If you can't get advice or representation don't panic. Employment tribunals are set up for ordinary employees to appear on their own and many people don't have a representative.

  • What’s it like? Does everyone wear wigs and gowns? Cases are usually heard by a single judge, sometimes by the judge and two panel members. They usually sit at a raised desk. The atmosphere is like a court but slightly less formal. For example, nobody wears wigs or gowns, but evidence is taken on oath and there are rules about what happens and who speaks when.

Published 3 November 2020