14th April, 2014
Acas Early Conciliation
As part of plans to make the Employment Tribunal system more efficient Acas has launched Early Conciliation whereby prospective claimants will be required to complete the Early Conciliation process before presenting a claim to the Tribunal.
Acas advise that “it is best for employers and employees to resolve disputes as early as possible” and that “reaching a settlement through conciliation at the earliest opportunity is quicker, cheaper and less stressful for all concerned than a Tribunal hearing”.
Early Conciliation is available from 6 April 2014, and will be mandatory from 6 May 2014. The mandatory provisions are a change from the previous position which allowed a claimant to make a claim to a Tribunal without any prior attempt at conciliation. Pre 6 April 2014, parties could request pre-claim conciliation but this was not obligatory.
Acas has published numerous benefits of the new Early Conciliation process. It is predicted that Early Conciliation will save people the time, cost and anxiety of facing an Employment Tribunal. Conciliators will be able to help parties understand the strengths and weaknesses of their case, including ways to resolve the issues, whilst still remaining impartial.
Early Conciliation is for a one month period, to allow the parties to attempt conciliation. If conciliation is not possible, or the month period comes to an end before settlement has been possible, Acas must issue a certificate to the employee to that effect. Receipt of this certificate enables the employee to submit a claim. Without the reference number on the certificate, an employee’s claim will be rejected by a Tribunal.
Early Conciliation is not an “either/or option”, if a settlement can’t be reached, parties are still free to go to the Tribunal and Acas will continue to assist throughout proceedings.
In essence, Early Conciliation is a four stage process.
Before submitting a claim to the Tribunal, a prospective claimant must complete the Early Conciliation Form (either online or by post) to send “prescribed information” to Acas. Prescribed information includes the prospective claimant’s name, address and contact details and the prospective respondent’s name, address and contact details. In cases where there are more than one prospective respondent, the prospective claimant must complete a separate form for each prospective respondent (or inform Acas of the same by phone).
Acas will then make contact with the prospective claimant to clarify the details of the Early Conciliation Form. They may also obtain additional information such as length of service. Acas will explain the conciliation process and may discuss the prospective claim. A conciliator will then be appointed to the case.
The next stage is for the conciliator to promote settlement between the parties. This will involve contacting the prospective claimant and, where the prospective claimant is willing to engage, contacting the prospective respondent. During the conciliation period, the limitation period for presenting a claim to the Tribunal will be paused. The initial conciliation period lasts for one month from the Early Conciliation Form, but this may be extended by Acas if there are reasonable prospects of a settlement.
If a settlement cannot be reached between the parties, Acas will issue an Early Conciliation Certificate. The Early Conciliation Certificate will be sent to the prospective claimant, and if contact has been made, to the prospective respondent.
Stage three of the Early Conciliation process involves the conciliator attempting to promote settlement. However, although the prospective claimant is required to comply with the conditions of Early Conciliation by sending prescribed information to Acas, they are not required to engage in conciliation if they don’t want to.
A prospective claimant may simply tell Acas they do not want to take part in conciliation and Acas will issue the Early Conciliation Certificate required for the prospective claimant to continue their claim to the Tribunal.
Similarly, if contact is made with the prospective respondent, they may also refuse to engage in conciliation and the Certificate will be issued for the prospective claimant to decide whether or not to pursue their claim.
One of the key features of Early Conciliation is that it will “stop the clock” on the limitation period for bringing a claim to the Tribunal. During the conciliation period, the limitation period will be paused, meaning that it is in effect extended by typically one month to enable conciliation.
It is extremely important to bear the limitation period in mind when dealing with new potential claims in the workplace, post 6 April 2014.
There are different routes to explore as part of Early Conciliation and it is important to properly comply with employment law procedures.
For further information and advice in relation to your rights and responsibilities under Early Conciliation, please contact Claire Brook on 01244 405575 or send an email to [email protected].
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