Since May 2014, any individual who wants to issue a claim in the Employment Tribunal must contact ACAS (The Arbitration and Conciliation Advisory Service) to follow the early conciliation procedure (EC). The idea is to reduce the number of Tribunal claims, by offering a quick and simple way for individuals and employers to settle disputes before issuing a claim. It can also reduce the cost to employers of defending frivolous claims.
And it seems to be working. According to research published by ACAS, EC has helped to head off 7 out of 10 Employment Tribunal hearings.
There may well be other reasons for the fall in Tribunal cases. The claimant must pay a fee to issue their claim - £250 for unfair dismissal plus a further £950 if it goes as far as a hearing. Even if the claimant wins, the amount that can be awarded as compensation for an unfair dismissal is limited to £78,962 or 12 months gross pay (whichever is lower). There is also the stress involved in the process and the risk of losing for claimants to consider.
Whatever the reason for the low level of claims, EC is compulsory and it is here to stay.
If an individual has a potential claim against you as the employer as a result of a workplace dispute, here are some important points about how EC works:
1. Contacting ACAS is compulsory for the claimant. If they don’t do this, their claim will not be accepted by the Tribunal.
2. Early conciliation is free. If successful, it will save the employer the time and expense of defending the claim.
3. ACAS does not give legal advice. ACAS will talk through the issues with both sides separately by telephone and discuss any proposals, but will not give legal advice or advise whether the claimant should accept any offer.
4. You may not know if an employee has contacted ACAS because they can tell ACAS not to contact you. This would mean that the first you knew of a claim would be receiving the ET1.
5. Negotiation is voluntary. At any time during EC either side can decide that they do not want to negotiate. EC ends and ACAS issues a conciliation certificate. The claimant can then issue their claim.
6. There is a time limit. EC will end after one month if no agreement has been reached, although this can be extended once, for two weeks.
7. Any agreement is binding. If agreement is reached, both sides will sign an agreement called a COT3 setting out the amount that the employer agrees to pay to the claimant. The claimant will not then be able to issue a claim in the Tribunal about that dispute.
8. There may still be a claim. If no agreement is reached, EC will end and ACAS issues a conciliation certificate. The claimant can then bring a claim in the Tribunal about that dispute.
If you are contacted by ACAS or receive a Tribunal Claim, it is important to act quickly. If you want to defend the claim, you must respond to the Tribunal within 28 days.