ACAS Early Conciliation – the new rules
As part of the Government's employment law reforms to try and reduce the number of employment tribunal claims, pre claim ACAS conciliation will be available from 6th April 2014 and will become mandatory for most employment tribunal claims from 6th May 2014.
The new scheme: overview
The scheme has four stages:-
1) The prospective claimant notifies ACAS via an online form or by telephone that he or she intends to bring a claim. There is no need for the prospective claimant to provide any details of the nature of the claim they are considering bringing.
2) ACAS makes reasonable attempts to contact the prospective claimant to see if they want to conciliate.
3) If they do, ACAS will attempt to resolve the dispute between the parties and will contact the prospective respondent. ACAS has up to one month to facilitate a settlement, with a possible extension of a further two weeks where there is a reasonable prospect of settlement. If settlement is reached ACAS records the terms of the agreement.
4) ACAS issues an early conciliation certificate where either party refuse early conciliation, cannot be contacted or settlement cannot be reached.
How does this affect employers and employees?
Employers will possibly notice little change. At the minute claimants may try to negotiate a settlement directly or through representatives or ACAS prior to issuing a claim in any event. However, for claimants they will now have to notify ACAS as detailed above and receive the early conciliation certificate or their employment tribunal claim will be refused.
Changes to time limits
When determining whether a time limit has been complied with (e.g. a claimant must present their claim of unfair dismissal before the end of three months from the date of termination) the clock effectively stops when ACAS receives the early conciliation request and starts to run again the day after the prospective claimant receives their certificate.
Can an employer make a request for pre conciliation?
Employers can make requests for pre claim conciliation. If they do this, ACAS is under a duty to try and conciliate as if the claimant had started the process. However, there is no specified period of time within which the conciliation must take place and there is no extension to time limits. This may cause confusion for some claimants if they are unaware of the difference.
As with any new legislation, we have to see how the new provisions settle down. The scheme is likely to lead to a reduction in the number of claims presented to employment tribunals but there are bound to be some claims arising out of the new provisions on the issue of whether claims have been lodged in time or not.
It is interesting to note that neither party is obliged to take part in the early conciliation process and there are no sanctions for failing to take part.
If you require any further information about this new legislation please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment Law team.