Should I sue my employer?

Andrew Boast
10 min read
Should I sue my employer? Advice from employment law friend

We are so used to seeing reports in the media of mammoth pay outs ordered by the Employment Tribunal to wronged employees: “RAF nurse who treated wounded soldiers awarded £560,000 for sex discrimination”, “Tribunal awards £3.1m for banker falsely labelled “Ms Cokehead”, “Dismissed Secretary wins £316,000 in Employment Tribunal for sex a disability discrimination claim” are a few examples. It portrays a picture of the Employment Tribunal as a guardian of the little guy, righter of wrongs and pinless ATM firing out compensatory awards like a scatter gun. This impression is very far from the truth.

The bald facts are that should you sue your employer it is very costly, stressful, time-consuming and rarely results in a wronged employee emerging feeling victorious from the process. In fact many claimants report that had they known at the beginning how stressful it would be in the beginning, they would have thought twice about even entering into the process.

The costs of using a lawyer can be exorbitant. Svetlana Lokhova, the banker referred to by her employers as “crazy Miss Cokehead” won £3.2million in Employment Tribunal but ended up bankrupt after having to pay legal fees of £2million and repay loans to friends and relatives for money she needed to survive during the process.

If you win, awards are generally a lot less than people expect. In sex discrimination cases, the average financial award is £10,552, according to the Tribunal Statistics but this number is inflated by the rare breed of large pay out reported in the press. You are more likely to receive around the £5,000 mark. If you work for a very small company, you may not be able to actually enforce the judgement against them to get your money. Sometimes it’s simply not worth it. Find out if it’s worth suing your employer.

If you are an employee suing your employer, you also have to think about the effect that suing your employer is going to have on your relationship with your colleagues and on your career. Often raising a claim at work results in an employee being labelled a trouble-maker and then side-lined for promotion opportunities, or worse.

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Should I sue my employer

The law is supposed to protect employees from this kind of victimisation but its human nature to be wary of someone who has a reputation for making serious complaints. Colleagues who verbally support your complaint often turn very shy when asked to go on record for you.

If you have a more sophisticated employer who takes its obligations to its employees seriously and genuinely want to resolve problems in a fair way, or if you’re on your way out of your job anyway, then it’s worth suing your employer, while you’re still employed, or shortly after. Costs needn’t be prohibitive if you have the mettle for a legal dispute and can follow instructions. Employment Law Friend makes it possible to sue your employer, without paying legal fees, using the guidance, information and templates available on the Employment Law Friend website.

How do I sue my employer?

Working out how to sue your employer depends on whether you are still employed or if you have left/been dismissed:
  • Still Employed - the best advice is to raise a grievance to set out the reason for why you want to sue your boss. There must be grounds for you wanting to sue your employer so put them in writing and give your employer the chance to respond to you. You can draft the letter yourself, however it is so important to get it right you can download a Template Grievance Letter here
  • No Longer Employed - did you raise a grievance? If not then you still should so follow the advice above. The option for you now is to proceed to the Tribunal so get ready to make an application yourself, or hire a solicitor to do it for you. We can help so please get in contact here if you want us to help you answer when can you sue an employer and how you can do it.

Common Myths about Suing your Employer

Worker’s rights in the UK have been gradually improving through the setting up of the Employment Tribunal’s service in 1964, the introduction of policies and laws improving working conditions and protecting employees from discrimination, harassment and whistle-blowing. When laws and policies are disregarded to the detriment of the employee, it falls to the individual to enforce their rights in the Employment Tribunal. Whatever reason an employee has to sue an employer, before deciding whether to embark on the litigation path, the employee needs to know these 5 commonly held beliefs about suing an employer.

Should I sue my employer - Myth 1

If I win, I will receive a huge pay out.
This is perhaps the most commonly held misconception my employees considering suing their employer. Employment Tribunal awards are characteristically moderate and with pay outs commonly being around £3,000 – £5,000. The big wins that you hear about in the media, are in the media precisely because they are uncharacteristically large. Usually the employee would have been on a large salary, which then if it was not paid to the employee because of the employer’s wrongdoing, is added up and repaid to the employee with interest. Given that cases can take up to 2 years in the Tribunal in which time the employee is usually off work due to work-related stress, then that salary can add up. If an employee, could leave work and take up another job fairly easily, than an award will accordingly be fairly low, maybe 1 – 2 months salary. If you can negotiate a settlement with your employer in order that you part ways without going too far down the legal route, then your compensation is limited only by what you are able to negotiate and what your employer has the appetite to pay to make you go away.

Should I sue my employer - Myth 2

My Employer will be fair with me and act with integrity in dealing with my claim.
Unfortunately for the most part, most employers see your launching a claim, even making a grievance (the first stage of making the claim) as an “act of war” and thereafter you are definitely an “outsider.” The claws are truly out. Expect documents you need from them to oddly disappear, witnesses to melt away or change their story in response to questions posed by the employer, threatening letters from lawyers and a full character assassination. However, forewarned is forearmed. If you know what to expect you can prepare in advance. Learn how to deal with and counter these and other rogue employer tactics on Employment Law Friend.

Should I sue my employer - Myth 3

Once I issue my Employment Tribunal Claim, my employer will not take further adverse action against me because that would be victimisation.
Unless you work in a highly ethical organisation, the likelihood is that your employer usually will retaliate against you. Although the law protects you against retaliation for certain protected acts such as reporting discrimination and health and safety breaches, there are ways in which your employer can legally make life more difficult for you in a bid to make you drop the claim or leave the company, or both. Once you start to sue your employer, your employer will start to collect “evidence” of your wrongdoing, your “attitude”, disagreements with colleagues from years back or some sort of personality disorder. Expect it and be prepared.

Should I sue my employer - Myth 4

Once my employer thinks it will be sued, it will change its ways and start to obey the law.
Sadly this is another myth. Companies that disregard their obligations to their employees require a great deal of work before the culture can be shifted to ensure an environment or management culture that respects the law in regard to its employees. It is generally cheaper to pay off an employee than to discipline management (with the inherent risk of an even larger claim from a highly-paid manager), make drastic changes to the operation of the company or to roll out the training required to educate bigoted management.

Should I sue my employer - Myth 5

My employer will be sophisticated in its response to my claim.
Happily for you, many employers make a complete hash of handling a claim by an employee and in some instances can even provide an employee with more fodder to support the employee’s complaint. Even large companies supported by a large team of internal or external lawyers can really screw up the process and there are ways that an employee suing an employer can maximise on those opportunities.

So those are some of the most common myths about suing your employer dispelled for you. Some good news and some bad news. What is most definitely good news is that you can now educate yourself to take on your employer yourself without expending copious amounts of money on legal fees and being fully prepared for what you may be faced with by your employer. This website aims to arm you with all the insider knowledge to arm you to protect your employee rights and protect yourself from rogue employers.

The 10 Stages before Bringing an Employment Tribunal Claim

Listed below is a majorly simplified list of the stages involved in suing your employer. It’s limited to 10 stages although there are many in-between steps that are left out of this list to keep things simple. What’s really important in the process is the timings of each stage. There are very strict rules and time limits on when certain steps must be taken. If the specific deadlines are missed, unless you can argue some exception, that may well be the end of your case.

The list assumes takes you up to the point of either settling or issuing a claim in the Employment Tribunal. Settlement negotiations are an art in themselves. If you can avoid going to Employment Tribunal by settling out of court then that can be a good option, depending on what stage are you at. If you are suing your employer yourself with the help of Employment Law Friend, then you have far greater flexibility around negotiating a settlement as you won’t have £1,000’s of legal fees to cover. Anyway, here’s the 10 stages of taking your employer to employment tribunal.

List of Stages before bringing an Employment Tribunal Claim

  • Employer does something in breach of your employee rights which is sufficiently bad in itself, or which is the last straw in a long line of bad behaviour.
  • You raise a grievance with your employer.
  • Your employer acknowledges your grievance and conducts an investigation.
  • Your employer concludes the investigation and refutes your complaint.
  • You consider the conclusion and issue a formal appeal against it.
  • Your employer considers your appeal, conducts further investigation and refutes your complaint.
  • You contact ACAS about your complaint and attempt conciliation.
  • You issue a claim in the Employment Tribunal.
  • Your employer issues a response to your claim.
  • You settle or your claim goes to Employment Tribunal.

Frequently Asked Questions
You can, however it would help your claim if you raised a grievance with your employer prior to leaving and that you informed your employer your reason for leaving was for unfair treatment and discrimination. The employer should be given the opportunity to investigate and respond to your claims.

You will also need to make your application to the Employment Tribunal no later than 3 months after the last offence took place otherwise you will be out of time.

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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