What is early conciliation?
In a further attempt to encourage parties to an employment tribunal claim to consider settlement and to try and make the tribunal system more efficient, any Claimant who issues a tribunal claim will now have to enter into a period of conciliation with ACAS before they are able to proceed with their claim.
This new system of negotiation came into force on a voluntary basis on 4 April 2014 and there were initially 4000 applications to use this service which is run through ACAS. It is now mandatory (as of 6 May 2014) and may well result in a further drop in the number of claims being heard by employment tribunals.
What does it involve?
Any claimant who wants to bring a claim will now have to provide certain information to ACAS. This is called ‘prescribed information’ and is relatively straightforwards. This information will be given to an early conciliation support officer who will then make contact with a prospective claimant and check that they wish to proceed. If they do, the information will be sent to a conciliation officer.
Once the conciliation officer contacts the Claimant, they will need to get confirmation that the Claimant is happy for the respondent to be contacted. If both parties are happy to participate in early conciliation, the conciliation officer must try to promote a settlement within one month from when the Claimant first made contact with ACAS. This period can be extended.
If the parties cannot be contacted or if they do not wish to participate in early conciliation, then an Early Conciliation (“EC”) certificate must be issued. The same applies if no settlement is reached. The EC certificate will have a unique reference number which the Claimant will need if they wish to go on to present a claim.
Does this help employers?
Whilst there is no obligation on an employer to engage in early conciliation, it will probably be helpful to do so. Firstly, it means that it will enable employers to work out what the extended time limit will be for a Claimant to bring a claim. Secondly, it will help employers find out more about a prospective claim. Employers could usefully take advantage of this process to find out useful information. It may also be possible to resolve a potential case on lower terms than if the claim goes through to a hearing as it would avoid the Claimant having to pay the applicable fees.
What we can do for you?
Tribunal claims can be difficult and costly. We can support you through the whole process, identifying opportunities for possible settlement where they arise, defending them robustly where necessary and carrying out the advocacy if required.
Please contact Karin Henson at [email protected] for further information.