New ACAS conciliation scheme
Very often, the first an employer will know of a claim against it is when the claim form from the ET is served on it.
Under new rules introduced this week, in the majority of cases, there will be an opportunity to attempt to resolve matters without the need for tribunal proceedings.
Since 6 April, anyone who wishes to bring an ET claim must contact ACAS and allow ACAS to attempt early conciliation (EC) of their dispute. A claim may only be presented to an ET after a certificate has been issued by ACAS to confirm that contact has been made with them. The duty is optional for the first month and becomes mandatory on 6 May.
Key features of the duty are:
- The employee must send a completed EC form (available on the ACAS website) to ACAS on line or by post. It is not necessary for the employee to provide any information about the nature of their claim on the EC form;
- If the employee informs ACAS that s/he does not want to proceed with conciliation (it isn’t compulsory), the case will be closed and ACAS will issue a certificate confirming that the employee has complied with their obligation under EC. The rules suggest that where an employee wants to conciliate, ACAS will be required to proceed regardless of whether ACAS consider there to be a justifiable claim;
- ACAS will contact the employer. If the employer declines EC, ACAS will issue the certificate allowing the employee to proceed with their claim;
- Where both parties agree to conciliate, ACAS will have one calendar month (extendable by up to two weeks) to negotiate settlement. If conciliation fails within this period, ACAS will issue the certificate allowing the employee to proceed with their claim;
- Where the parties agree a settlement, ACAS will draw up a settlement agreement;
- Submission of the EC will ‘stop the clock’ on the time period for the employee to submit their claim to the ET. Time will only start to run again when the certificate is issued by ACAS. This means the time limit for most claims will be three months plus the time during which ACAS conciliates. If time is due to expire within one month of the clock re-starting after ACAS involvement, there will be a minimum one month period to enter the claim.
Whilst the requirement on employees to contact ACAS before they bring tribunal proceedings will be mandatory, the decision whether to accept ACAS’ offer of conciliation will be voluntary. After making initial contact with ACAS, employees who do not want to settle may decline conciliation and proceed to lodge their claim. Employers can also decline to take part.
If you would like advice about how the issues in this note apply to your situation, please contact me.
Warning – this bulletin is for information only and does not claim to be comprehensive or to provide legal or other advice. You should take legal advice before taking or refraining to take any action. No liability is accepted for loss that may arise from placing reliance on this bulletin.