Many people might assume that if they start a claim in the Employment Tribunal, and the success of that claim depended on the meaning of a term in their employment contract, the Tribunal would be able to decide what that term meant. It seems so obvious that the Tribunal should be able to do this, that you might wonder why the question as to whether it can even has to be asked. Yet this question did have to be asked and was very recently addressed by the Court of Appeal.
An employee brought a claim against her employer for wrongly deducting money from their wages, but there was some uncertainty concerning the meaning of her contract in regards to what she should be paid.
The employer argued that because the success of her claim depended on resolving the meaning of the contract, the Tribunal was unable to decide this and that the claim should therefore fail because it should not have been presented to the Tribunal in the first place.
Previously, it had been clear law that the Tribunal does not have the power to decide the meaning of the contract of employment for certain types of claims. It had been assumed on some occasions by the Employment Tribunal that because they did not have this power for some claims, they did not have it for all claims.
The Court of Appeal has resolved this confusion and thankfully made it clear that an Employment Tribunal has the power to resolve any issue necessary to determine whether there has been an unlawful deduction from wages, including an issue as to the meaning of the contract of employment itself.
Whilst the answer to the question surrounding the Tribunal’s power has been laid to rest, this case highlights the importance more generally of being clear, if you have a claim, on where you should be pursuing it (such as through the ordinary courts or tribunal).
It would be very unfortunate for someone who has a strong claim to end up before a judge only to be told by the judge the case cannot be decided on because they are in the wrong place.
It is also at least a possibility, depending on how that first claim is disposed of, that any second claim then pursued in the right place may not be allowed to continue for being what is known as an “abuse of process”. If that happened, that could mean being unable to pursue the claim at all, no matter how strong it might be!
For this reason, and many others, it pays to have good legal advice prior to starting any legal action. QualitySolicitors Davisons’ Dispute Resolution Team deal with a wide variety of civil and employment disputes and provide clear direction and straightforward advice.
If you are considering bringing a claim or are facing a legal action, call 0121 289 5322 for a free initial telephone consultation.
 Meena Agarwal v Cardiff University & Others  EWCA Civ 2084