Halstead v Paymentshield Group Holdings Ltd – staying proceedings in the Employment Tribunal

This is a case concerning the (in)ability of Claimants to run concurrent proceedings in the High Court and the Employment Tribunal. Such issues usually crop up when a contractual claim for a value above £25,000 (which should be issued in the High Court) runs alongside a complaint in the Employment Tribunal for redress of a violation of a worker or employees rights (such as discrimination or unfair dismissal).

The facts in Halstead v Paymentshield Group Holdings Ltd

Mr Halstead (“the Appellant”) issued proceedings in the Employment Tribunal  for the complaints of unfair dismissal, automatic unfair dismissal on the ground of making a protected disclosure, and for accrued but untaken holiday pay. The Claimant had outstanding contractual claims that would need to be issued in the High Court (for breach of contract and rescission) and sent a pre-action letter to the Respondent regarding this on 7 December 2010. The Respondent applied to have the Employment Tribunal claim stayed on 21 December 2010 on the basis that there were likely to be concurrent proceedings in the High Court and the Employment Tribunal (although this was not the case). The Employment Judge agreed to the stay. The Appellant in March 2011 applied for the stay to be lifted because of a change in his financial circumstances and was apparently ordered to undertake to not bring High Court proceedings along with the Employment Tribunal proceedings. This was appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal ordered a stay on proceedings due to the potential concurrent claims (stating that the pre-action letter could constitute proceedings). A further appeal was made to the Court of Appeal by the Appellant.

The law relating to concurrent proceedings and staying Employment Tribunal claims

If there is the possibility of concurrent Employment Tribunal and civil proceedings then whether the Employment Tribunal claim or the civil claim should be stayed depends upon the facts of the matter. In complex cases, civil proceedings are likely to take precedence and the Employment Tribunal proceedings will be stayed. Further, should there be a significant overlap between Tribunal and court proceedings it is appropriate to stay the Employment Tribunal claim (Mindimaxnox LLP v Gover).

The Court of Appeal’s judgment in Halstead v Paymentshield Group Holdings Ltd

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, overturning the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s judgment. The critical points in this decision were firstly, that the Appellant was not issuing concurrent claims as the claims were separate and, secondly, that a pre-action letter and a draft particulars of claim did not constitute proceedings. It was therefore not appropriate for the Appellant’s claim to be stayed in the Employment Tribunal.

Our specialist employment lawyers’ thoughts on Halstead v Paymentshield Group Holdings Ltd

This is an interesting case concerning employment law proceedings in the Employment Tribunal. Claimants with potentially high-value contractual disputes should be aware that there is a cap on contractual damages in the High Court and that problems may arise if they issue claims that overlap in the High Court and Employment Tribunal. However, a pre-action letter and particulars of claim sent to the (potential) Defendant does not constitute proceedings.