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Rights, remedies, and jurisdiction

Having a right, for example the right not to be unfairly dismissed, or to have reasonable adjustments made to your disability, is one thing. But on its own, it is not worth much.

The best way of explaining why is a worked example:

s94 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 creates the right not to be unfairly dismissed. It does this simply enough, by saying in effect ‘An employee must not be unfairly dismissed by his employer.’ This right is then explained and detailed in the rest of the ERA.

But on its own, this really doesn’t do anything. You may have a right, but what happens if it is breached? What, in other words, is your remedy?

This is set out in some of the later sections of the ERA, s112-126. These set out the basic and compensatory awards – as well as the various re-employment orders that might be made

So this far, you have both a right and a remedy. But even this isn’t enough. You need a way of getting your remedy. Otherwise your employer could say “Yes, you should not have been unfairly dismissed, and I should pay you compensation – but what are you going to do about it?”

The answer, of course, is that you are going to go to an employment tribunal. But if you are to do so, the tribunal must have jurisdiction. That is to say, it must have the legal power to deal with your claim. That’s set out in s111 ERA, which tells us ‘A complaint may be presented to an employment tribunal against an employer by any person that he was unfairly dismissed by the employer.’ Without s111, the tribunal wouldn’t be able to hear any unfair dismissal claims. And because it says that unfair dismissal claims will be heard by the employment tribunal, they cannot be dealt with by another court. If you tried to bring an unfair dismissal claim in a County Court, it would be rejected, because the County Court does not have jurisdiction.

All this is important, because there are traps for the unwary. You must not assume that, just because you have a right, you are entitled to compensation in a particular way or that you will be able to bring a claim to the tribunal.

For example, the Working Time Regulations 1998 contain a right that you will not have to work more than 48 hours a week (unless you agree in writing to opt-out) and that night workers do not have to work more than eight hours at a time. But there is no entitlement to compensation if these rights are breached and you cannot bring a claim to the employment tribunal about them. They are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive, and various other Government agencies.

For each claim you bring to the tribunal you must have some idea of what compensation can be awarded, and where the tribunal’s jurisdiction comes from. Otherwise you may be caught out: at best, you’ll have have wasted your time, and at worst you may have missed the chance to bring your claim in the correct forum, or risk an order that you pay the other side’s costs.

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