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Compulsory dispute resolution – important change for employers

From yesterday Early Conciliation applies to pretty much every employment tribunal claim albeit voluntarily for a few weeks. Under the new regime all new claims raised by employees will be sent in the first instance to ACAS, rather than to the Employment Tribunals Service. In a perhaps unexpected twist however ACAS are also inviting disgruntled employees to inform them about issues with their employer that fall well short of an actual tribunal claim.

On the ACAS website https://ec.acas.org.uk/ employees with a grievance against their employer are invited to complete an online form (https://ec.acas.org.uk/) in order to trigger Early Conciliation. The next stage will be an ACAS phone call to the employer to discuss the complaint and to explore the possibility of a settlement. Where the introduction of tribunal fees last July may deliver a long term reduction in incidents of vexatious or trivial tribunal complaints, are we now instead to see the same complaints arriving on employers doorsteps courtesy of ACAS intervention?

Time will tell, but it isn’t hard to imagine a small employer panicking after a government agency contacts them to discuss the possible resolution of a problem with an employee he previously knew nothing about. Some may also be tempted into offering financial settlements in inappropriate circumstances rather than consider resolving matters for themselves, or dismissing trivial issues for what they are.

We would urge all employers to contact us if they receive Early Conciliation calls so that we can discuss the options and if necessary for us to conciliate with ACAS on our client’s behalf.

This concern aside, how does Early Conciliation work?

  1. The employee (or rarely, an employer) can fill in a short on-line EC form and submit it
  2. If the employee (not the employer) does so then the ‘limitation clock’ (by which we mean the time limits for bringing a tribunal complaint, normally 3 or 6 months) will stop.
  3. An ACAS officer will make contact with the complainant to gather details & to request permission to contact the employer (or their representatives)
  4. If conciliation is refused by either employee or employer, or it fails after a month, an ‘Early Conciliation Certificate’ will be issued and the employee is free to submit their tribunal claim quoting the EC certificate number (no number = no claim.)
  5. If the employee has applied for EC a further month is added to the limitation period FROM THE DATE that the certificate is issued, e.g.

a. 1st April – employee dismissed
b. 15th May – employee submits EC form
c. 15th June – conciliation fails and ACAS issues EC certificate
d. 30th June – the normal deadline for a tribunal unfair dismissal complaint
e. 14th July – the new deadline as a result of EC

Early Conciliation provides for a calendar month in which to explore settlement - this can be extended by agreement by 14 days. The clock is stopped on the deadline for putting in a tribunal claim under Early Conciliation, and employees will have at least a calendar month after Early Conciliation to put their claim in. However, Early Conciliation will not wind the clock back, so if the employee was already too late to make a tribunal claim they will still be too late when Early Conciliation is finished. If the employee subsequently makes a tribunal claim.