ACAS Early Conciliation process – what employers should know
Pretty much everyone has heard of Acas, whether through trade union disputes on the evening news or, closer to home, resolving tribunal claims. Previously, the scope of Acas to conciliate tribunal claims has been limited mainly to where claims have already been issued, and some pre-claim conciliation. However, from 6 April a new conciliation process came in.
Early Conciliation is a free service, as with all Acas services, which has been passed through Parliament in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act and will encourage settlement of workplace disputes before matters escalate toward a costly employment tribunal.
The process relates to the streamlining of the employment tribunal procedure which has been under scrutiny for a while and has culminated in the introduction of the Acas Early Conciliation (EC) service.
From 6 April 2014, there is a new duty on the parties and Acas to explore the option of Early Conciliation (EC) in employment disputes before a claim is issued. There was a transitional period from 6 April to 5 May 2014 where the service was available but not obligatory; however, it is now mandatory to contact Acas when a workplace dispute arises before a claim can be issued.
Early Conciliation can help resolve a range of issues including:
- workplace discrimination
- claims of unfair dismissal
- redundancy payment disputes
- deductions from wages or unpaid notice
- flexible working, zero hours or rights to time off
- equal pay
Not all claims are covered by the Early Conciliation process, but the exceptions are very limited. Employees will not be able to lodge a claim unless they have either been issued with an Early Conciliation certificate from Acas, or one of the very limited exemptions applies.
These are important changes which should prove beneficial to employers by reducing the likelihood of a claim going to tribunal as well as reducing costs. Independent research has found that the average cost to an employer of resolving a case through Pre Claim Conciliation (a current similar service) is just £475, with employers spending on average one day on a claim. This is compared to an average of £3700 and four days for an Employment Tribunal.
Acas believes that it is always best for employers and employees to resolve disputes as early as possible and the Early Conciliation process aims to help more businesses reach a settlement through conciliation at the earliest opportunity, saving time, money and reducing the stress that a tribunal hearing may bring.
How does the Early Conciliation process work?
- Before an individual lodges an Employment Tribunal claim, they are required to notify Acas via an online form or telephone, where Acas will contact them to gather basic information about the dispute itself and talk the individual through the Early Conciliation process.
- The case is then passed on to a conciliator who will contact both parties involved and talk through the issues with the aim of reaching a solution.
- Early Conciliation allows both parties up to a calendar month initially to explore ways of resolving their dispute using the services of an Acas conciliator, though this can be shorter, or up to 14 days longer according to individual needs.
- When Early Conciliation has finished the individual will have at least one calendar month in which to submit a tribunal claim, since the normal time period for lodging a claim is suspended while the Early Conciliation is on-going
- Employers can also take advantage of this service, if they are concerned about a potential dispute arising with an employee, and contact Acas to try and facilitate conciliation before the issue escalates.
If one or both parties do not want to consider conciliation when contacted by the Conciliation Officer, the process will go no further and Acas will issue an Early Conciliation certificate to this effect.
Whether in practice it will help to resolve disputes before proceedings are issued remains to be seen, but it is an interesting concept and employers will certainly hope that it does not become merely a question of the employee ticking the Early Conciliation "box" and then proceeding to issue anyway. It offers a quick and easy route to swiftly resolving escalating issues without recourse to the tribunal and incurring legal costs.
Employers are strongly advised to seek detailed strategic advice on the Acas Early Conciliation process and just what it means for them. Our experts at Royds can advise employers on all employment law issues and changes in legislation including Early Conciliation.