There is a lot at stake when attending a hearing at the Employment Tribunal. If you are the respondent company you risk your reputation, especially if you are accused of discrimination, as well as potentially hefty fine. If you are the claimant you risk being subjected to close scrutiny and interrogation that may make you feel as though you are being prosecuted for a crime. For both parties, it could simply be that going into an environment from which you are not familiar will give you a cool sweat. Another factor is that the Employment Tribunal does not have premises in every city, and therefore, you may find that you need to travel to another city to attend the hearing. This city may be one that you are not familiar with and cannot find your way around easily.
If it is the case that you will need to travel away from home for the hearing, and you are not familiar with the city, then it would be useful to go there beforehand to find out exactly how to get to the Employment Tribunal. The last thing you want to do is to turn up late for the hearing, or miss it altogether. On the day of the hearing itself you should plan to arrive at the hearing no later than 45 minutes before it is due to start. Also, you may want to consider giving yourself allowances for problems on the road, traffic jams, accidents, etc, so the earlier you leave the better.
You should also bear in mind that the Employment Tribunal is in fact open to the public. If you would feel more comfortable having your family and close friends with you in the room, then do invite them, as they can sit in the seats at the back. Usually though, the seats at the back are empty. Although there was one occasion in early 2010 where I found we had one spectator sitting at the back of the room taking notes. I was attending a full day hearing that day. My client did not know who that lady was. The respondent did not seem to know her either. So I guessed that she might be a law clinic or work experience placement there to observe the judges? I had the chance to chat with her during one of the intervals, she explained to me that she had come along that day to observe the procedures of the employment tribunal. She said she works as a Human Resources company and as part of her job role she deals with a number of cases of employment claims. She had never appeared at the employment tribunal before, but was expecting to be attending the employment tribunal soon for the first time to defend her company. She explained that given it is free to come to a hearing to observe that it was a good way for her to get familiar with the procedures and environment. That way her company could also save money but not having to bear the expense of sending her to a training course.
I thought that was very clever indeed. It also could be a very good idea for claimants too. If you are going to be appearing at an employment tribunal soon, and are nervous about what to expect, then you could consider doing the same. Go along to a hearing beforehand to familiarise yourself with the new environment. Don’t forget to call the registry beforehand to check that it is okay for you to attend, and which one. There will of course be occasions when a hearing may be restricted and closed off to the public, but this is not very common.