ACAS Early Conciliation: A Radical Change to Employment Tribunal Claims
Any employees and employers in dispute need to be aware that from 6th April 2014 there are to be some landmark changes in the legal arena related to employment tribunals.
On this date ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) is launching its Early Conciliation service.
What is Early Conciliation?
This free service launched by ACAS involves expert conciliators working with both parties to reach an agreement outside of the tribunal process.
(The dictionary definition of conciliation is: to work with opposing parties with the aim of bringing them to an agreement or reconciliation, especially in an industrial dispute.)
Anyone considering making an employment tribunal claim after its launch will need to contact ACAS first so it can offer Early Conciliation to try and resolve the dispute. An employee who does not go through Early Conciliation will not be allowed to issue a claim in the employment tribunal.
Early Conciliation is required for the majority of workplace disputes which may lead to an employment tribunal, such as:
- Unfair dismissal claims
- Workplace discrimination
- Redundancy payments
- Deductions from wages
- Rights to time off/flexible working
- Equal pay
The process is split into four clear steps:
The employee (also known as the claimant) must complete the necessary Early Conciliation form (available at www.acas.org.uk closer to 6 April), to include:
- Contact details; and
- Contact details of their employer/former employer
It should be noted that at this stage the employee is not required to provide any information relating to their complaint.
Alternatively, the claimant can call ACAS and provide the necessary information over the phone.
ACAS will contact the claimant to ask if they are interested in Early Conciliation.
If ACAS is unable to speak to the claimant after ‘reasonable attempts’ they will issue the Early Conciliation certificate to the claimant and employer. The claimant can only issue a claim when they have this certificate.
If the claimant confirms that they do not want to proceed with Early Conciliation, ACAS will issue both the claimant and the employer with the certificate.
If the claimant confirms that they want to conciliate then ACAS will appoint an Early Conciliation Support Officer (ECSO) to handle negotiations.
The ECSO will then contact the employer. If the employer confirms they are willing to conciliate then Early Conciliation will proceed, but if they confirm that they don’t want to, ACAS will issue the Early Conciliation certificate.
In summary, neither the employer nor employee can be forced to conciliate, but if the claimant does not submit the form, they cannot bring a claim.
If both parties are willing to conciliate, the ECSO will have one month to reach a settlement between both parties. The time period can be extended by two weeks if the ECSO believes that settlement is likely.
If settlement is not reached within this prescribed period, the ECSO will issue the Early Conciliation certificate.
Effect on Employment Tribunal Time Limits:
Most employment tribunal claims must be issued within three months of the incident e.g. within three months of the date of dismissal or the date of a discriminatory act. The introduction of ACAS Early Conciliation will complicate the tribunal time limit.
When a claimant provides the EC Form to ACAS the tribunal time limit pauses until the EC certificate is issued.
We recommend that employees take legal advice as soon as possible before the cut off date when their claim must be issued, ensuring there are no issues with regards to time constraints.
We also warn employers that they can no longer assume that an employee will be barred from bringing an unfair dismissal claim three months after employment ends.
If you would like to know more about Early Conciliation or would like to bring a claim against an employer, please speak to Rob Zacal or Rhiain Lewis in our employment team to find out more. Simply call 01752 203500 or email email@example.com.