Employment tribunal claims have risen by 90% since the abolition of employment tribunal fees in July 2017. The rise has led to a new ‘frequently asked question’ here at Vista; how to prepare for an employment tribunal from a witness’s perspective?
We got together with Darren Maw, MD of Vista (called to the bar in 2000) and Abayomi Alemoru who has over twenty-five years’ experience of Employment Tribunal advocacy, and asked them how a witness prepares for a tribunal.
Here’s their guide:
Just answer the question
It sounds simple we know, but the golden rule in the employment tribunal is to answer the exact question you have been asked. It starts with listening carefully, getting an understanding of what you have been asked, and addressing the specific question. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer or ask for the question to be repeated.
Don’t overthink it
Witnesses often spend time thinking about why the question has been asked, and in doing this they can look calculating or dishonest. Letting your mind wander here can lead witnesses to think about a question that they haven’t been asked, want to be asked or, because they were focussing the ‘why’, they answer a question that they think they were asked. Not a good outcome for anyone.
Prepare for your evidence
The key here is knowing what part you played in the evidence. Witnesses need to have a solid grasp of what they have done, why they have done it, how they did it and in the broadest of terms, when they did it. We’re not saying you need to memorise the date and time of every area of the claim but have a clear chronology of events in your mind before you enter the tribunal.
Many cross examinations do focus around the chronology of a claim, and when witnesses start to stumble over these details, panic can set in. Which leads us on to our final tip, stay calm!
Stay calm and take your time
Witnesses must be comfortable in giving themselves time to think. In the unfamiliar and pressured environment of the employment tribunal, witnesses can feel obliged to be ‘too compliant’ and give instantaneous answers to the questions they are asked. Our tip here is to take your time, there is nothing wrong with showing your working out.
This is particularly important when a question that has been asked might amount to a misleading answer. In this case, witnesses can’t be afraid to answer the specific question, but then expand on the answer. Phrases such as ‘let me also tell you this’ work well in this situation and we assure you, a Judge will want to hear it.
So, we tried to make preparing for the tribunal complicated, but we think we failed! Our word of warning would be; it’s unfamiliar and might be uncomfortable, but if you stick to these principles and do the right prep, your tribunal will go smoothly. We’re running a number of Mock Employment Tribunals, which are a great way to experience the tribunal without the pressure so if you do have one coming up, why not join us. Or, try this employment tribunal checklist, which highlights the key HR responses required during the tribunal process.