ACAS “Early Conciliation” begins on 6 April 2014. It could provide a useful cooling-off period in situations where an employee intends to bring an employment tribunal claim.
It is compulsory to an extent:
- An individual must notify ACAS of their claim before they try to lodge it at the employment tribunal (with a few exceptions) – notification can be online or by telephone.
- ACAS must try to promote conciliation between the parties.
- ACAS must issue a final certificate before the claim can be lodged at the tribunal.
However, there is no obligation to actively participate in settlement discussions. If either the employee or employer is unwilling to do so, and ACAS concludes that a settlement will not be reached, ACAS must issue a certificate permitting the employee to proceed to the tribunal.
If there is a desire for conciliation, ACAS will allow a period of a month in which it can take place, with a possible two week extension. This period stops the clock running on any time limit for lodging a claim at the tribunal.
From an employers perspective, the process gives you:
- Advance notice of a claim.
- The chance to ask questions about it and understand the employee’s case at an early stage – particularly useful with unrepresented employees.
- The chance to get your own case across.
- The opportunity to try to settle before the employee goes to tribunal.
There are likely to be disadvantages too:
- Employees do not have to present a great deal of detail to ACAS, so you could spend the entire month teasing it out of them in order to understand the claim.
- There will be a greater time lag between, for example, an employee being dismissed and their claim being made – when you also factor in the possibility of an application for remission of tribunal fees and the initial sift of claims on merit by the tribunal, it could be 5-6 months after an employee is dismissed before you receive their actual claim form.
ACAS seem to be confident that, by forcing the parties to think about settlement before a claim is issued, the chances of settlement are higher. Time will tell.