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When might the civil courts be involved?
Not all employment-related cases go to a tribunal, and sometimes you can choose from a number of options. For example, if you have been 'wrongfully dismissed' (i.e. had your post terminated other than in accordance with the terms of your contract – this is different from being 'unfairly dismissed'), you can either take a case to a tribunal or pursue it through the civil courts.
You are most likely to do this where your contract entitles you to an unusually generous notice period, such as six months, rather than the statutory minimum.
Unlike tribunals, civil courts can hear claims for breach of contract which do not involve dismissal ‐ for example, if your employer changes your contract without your agreement. Sometimes, unions bring this kind of claim using a few members who agree to act as representative litigants. If the claim succeeds, the result can impact on the other members of the workforce who share the same contract term.
Sometimes, unions help to coordinate 'class actions', which can involve hundreds of litigants.
These courts can also hear claims for personal injury (i.e. if you are injured in the workplace or suffer ill-health as a result of your working environment and want to sue your employer for damages).
If you are a union member, your union may have arrangements in place with a firm of specialist lawyers, enabling the union to cover your legal costs as long as your claim meets set criteria (such as having good prospects of success).
If you are not in a union, and don't work in a unionised workplace, a local advice agency may be able to recommend solicitors who specialise in personal injury cases.