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Illegible ET1's

Posted on from Bargate Murray

HR practitioners, and employment lawyers, are frequently provided with handwritten ET1’s which are very difficult to read, sometimes with infinitesimal text. Should employment tribunals accept such claims?

What is an ET1?

To issue a claim at the employment tribunal, claimants have to ensure that they complete the required form, called an ET1. Claimants have to include their name and address, the name and address of the respondent/s, and details of the claim/s itself in the ET1. It is common to continue on separate sheets of paper, or to attach a separate document called a grounds of complaint, setting out further details of the claim/s.

May v Greenwich

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) recently considered this question in May v Greenwich Council. In that case Mr May completed his ET1 by hand in black ink. It was explained in the EAT that May was concerned that he should be able to put in all the details of his claim on the ET1 itself, and to ensure that all matters he considered relevant were included, his writing became small and “somewhat difficult to read”, although parts of the document were perfectly legible.

Notice of Appeal outcome

May presented his claim on the last available date of the 3-month period and subsequently received a notice from the employment tribunal that his claim had been rejected, on the grounds that it was illegible. The consequence being that he was effectively time-barred from bringing his claims.

May subsequently spoke to an administrator at the employment tribunal, and then wrote to the tribunal indicating that he intended to resubmit a new/revised/amended application making the text clearer and summarising the issues more succinctly. May did not in fact submit a revised claim and it was noted in the EAT that his Notice of Appeal, was “manifestly inconsistent”.

Readability

HHJ Serota, allowing May’s appeal, decided that the correct course for an employment tribunal to take where part of a claim is illegible is not to refuse to accept it in circumstances where the refusal in effect precludes a claimant from presenting a more readable copy without having to apply for an extension of time to do so. 

The correct course is for the employment tribunal to require a claimant to provide a more readable copy within a defined period, and if necessary to impose sanctions on his failure to do so. 

Outcome

Illegibility of part of the document would not in any event - if the ET1 itself complies with the relevant provisions of the employment tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2004 - justify refusal to accept the entire claim. 

HHJ Serota commented that he was able to read the entire document wearing his glasses but without using a magnifying glass, and he held that a document is legible if it is capable of being read without the need to use a magnifying glass and illegible if it is not capable of so being read. 

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