The ACAS early conciliation procedure is the next instalment of the Government’s overhaul of employment law and will come into effect on 6 April 2014. In keeping with the overall theme of attempting to make the tribunal process more efficient, the introduction of this procedure is aimed at encouraging conciliation at an early stage before a claim is lodged. This process will have implications for both individuals who wish to bring an Employment Tribunal claim (prospective claimants) and employers defending a claim (respondents).
The key points to note are:
- Early conciliation will be operational from 6 April 2014 and will become mandatory from 6 May 2014.
- From 6 May 2014, prospective claimants who wish to lodge a claim in the Employment Tribunal will first have to contact ACAS, either by telephone or submission of an early conciliation form.
- ACAS will take steps to contact the respondent to establish whether the matter can be resolved.
- The time limit for bringing an employment tribunal claim will be put on hold for up to one month (extendable by 14 days) whilst early conciliation is explored.
- Even though a prospective claimant is required to contact ACAS, there is no requirement to then engage in settlement discussions. Similarly, the respondent may also refuse to engage.
- If settlement is not reached within the time given, the ACAS officer will issue an early conciliation certificate. This will permit the prospective claimant to lodge their claim.
- The time period for bringing a claim will only begin to run again when an early conciliation certificate is issued.
There are exceptions to the requirement that prospective claimants contact ACAS, including where the respondent has already contacted ACAS in relation to the same matter.
The intention is that early conciliation will present an opportunity to reach a quicker resolution and reduce costs. For employees it could avoid the need to incur potentially high costs involved in pursuing a lengthy litigation and provide breathing space to try to resolve the matter without having to work against the clock.
Where employers might normally sit tight and wait for a claim to be lodged, they may now be more willing to resolve the matter at an earlier stage. However, it remains to be seen whether this will happen in practice or whether employers will simply refuse the offer of early conciliation and wait to see whether a prospective claimant raises a claim and is willing to pay the required tribunal fees.
Please click here to read the ACAS Guidance.
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