Early Conciliation through ACAS in respect of Employment Disputes
On 6 April 2014 a new ACAS Early Conciliation Scheme will operate on a voluntary basis for a month before becoming a mandatory part of the Employment Tribunal application process.
From 6 May 2014 it will be compulsory for most potential claimants to the Employment Tribunal to contact ACAS and make at least some attempt to reach a settlement before applying to the Employment Tribunal.
The pre-claim conciliation gives potential claimants the opportunity to explore a resolution of their claim before they have to pay a fee to the tribunal to issue proceedings. It will also force the parties to think about settlement at the outset. It is an attempt to facilitate employers and employees to sort out their differences at a very early stage.
The procedure is relatively straightforward.
Before lodging a claim with the Employment Tribunal a potential claimant must send ACAS an Early Conciliation (EC) form either online or by hard copy.
ACAS is under a duty to make reasonable attempts to contact the prospective claimant within 2 working days to find out the nature of the claim and establish if a claimant wishes to conciliate. If the claimant consents, ACAS must make reasonable attempts to contact the respondent and conciliate a settlement.
The conciliator has up to a calendar month from the date on which ACAS receives the EC form to facilitate a settlement. However, that period can be extended by up to 2 weeks if the ACAS officer is of the opinion that there is a reasonable prospect of achieving a settlement.
If settlement is reached, the terms will be set out in writing by ACAS for the potential claimant and respondent to sign.
If a settlement is not reached, or if either prospective party does not wish to take part in conciliation, ACAS will issue an EC certificate to record that conciliation has come to an end. When the claimant receives an EC certificate they are free to lodge a claim with the Tribunal.
Where the allegation is unfair dismissal, the ACAS officer has a particular duty to explore whether re-instatement or re-engagement can be achieved and can only promote a settlement involving compensation being paid if they are of the view that it is not possible or where the claimant does not wish to be re-instated or re-engaged.
The new regime provides for an extension of the time limit for lodging a claim with the Tribunal (which is usually 3 months) to allow for any conciliation period. The clock stops the day after the claimant contacts ACAS and restarts on the day after the claimant receives the EC certificate. If a claimant contacts ACAS when there is less than one month of the time limit for lodging a claim with the Tribunal to go, they get some extra time, namely a calendar month from the day they receive the EC certificate.