Caven blog

Early conciliation for employment disputes is being made a legal requirement on 6 May 2014, but what exactly is it?

There have been a lot of changes made to employment law recently, mainly with the aim of improving efficiency, reducing the number of spurious cases and ultimately saving the government money.

The latest is the introduction of Early Conciliation, a new requirement that must take place before any claim is made to the employment tribunal.

Claims in the employment tribunal

A report recently carried out on the number of claims being processed by the employment tribunal highlighted that the number of claims made in the final quarter of 2013 was 79% less than the number of claims made within the same quarter a year earlier, and 75% less than the quarter that it directly succeeded.

From looking at these figures, it is clear that there is a significant reduction in the number of claims passing through the employment tribunal.

At the rate in which this figure is falling, there are three conclusions which can be drawn:

  • Employers are upping their game in regards to compliance with employment laws
  • Aggrieved employees are being priced out of justice
  • The spurious claims have been removed due to the increase in costs

Your own presumptions can be made with regards to these possibilities, but from taking a brief glance at the list of government changes implemented within the past two years concerning employment law it is clear that these changes are having an impact.

What have been the main changes that could impact on claims?

The two main changes, believed to have had the biggest impact on this sharp decrease, were:

  • The decision to extend the minimum length of service required for a claim of unfair/constructive dismissal to be filed to two years, implemented on 6 April 2012
  • The introduction of charges into the tribunal system, a concept implemented on 29 July 2013

Taking a case to the employment tribunal now can potentially set a claimant back by up to £1,200 before their case even goes before a judge.

For many, the new costs have led to the feeling that it is no longer a viable option to try and defend their interests via the tribunal, and this leaves a burning frustration that they are being priced out of protecting their own rights.

Conciliation – will it help?

A new concept called Early Conciliation is being introduced through Acas (a service that assists many aggrieved employees taking their first steps towards legal action) and is going to be a required step in any employment-based claim from 6 May this year (2014).

Early Conciliation aims to essentially resolve disputes between employees and their employers before the tribunal’s involvement is even required.

Its aims are ultimately to relieve the burden placed upon the tribunal system even further by decreasing its workload, whilst offering employers and employees alike the opportunity to resolve their issues in situations where they otherwise may not have had the financial capability to do so.

How will it work?

Employees will now be required to contact Acas before lodging an employment tribunal claim, with the aim of avoiding litigation through conciliation. The process is free, and is funded by Acas.

Interestingly, the actual conciliation process is voluntary – it can be cancelled at any time by either the employee or employer.

In the case of class actions, only one person in the group is required to make a request to Acas for Early Conciliation and they represent everyone else.

What role will Acas have?

Early Conciliation will involve Acas taking on the mediator-type role within discussions that will be held between the concerned parties.

They will make contact with the claimant initially, in order to get a more in-depth idea of their case, and will then contact the other party to see if there is any way in which they can try to help resolve the situation.

They act as an independent third-party within the situation, with the aim of trying to eliminate the need for the issue to go on to an employment tribunal.

Acas will not ‘represent’ any party throughout the process and will not try to help any party with their claim, although they may provide advice on the main elements of the case that the tribunal will look at.

Who will this benefit?

Whilst initially appealing to employees who feel they have been wronged by offering a much more cost-effective option than the conventional choice of proceeding straight to tribunal, the private manner in which Early Conciliation will take place is likely to appeal to employers as well.

Many employers dread being dragged through tribunal proceedings in which cases suddenly become very public affairs, and are likely to jump at the opportunity to use a free service in which they can try to conclude issues early on before things progress.

If the Early Conciliation process is unable to assist in resolving an issue between two parties, then the option of filing a claim within the tribunal does still remain. Acas will ensure that the claimant still has at least a month to file this claim and will not allow them to inadvertently miss the deadline to file for action as a result of using the service. Early Conciliation will not represent an ‘either/or’ option.

When will this come into effect?

Early conciliation is being offered as an option to parties involved within employment-related disputes at this very moment, but will become a compulsory measure before issuing tribunal proceedings from 6 May.

The requirement to contact Acas before issuing a claim commences on 6 May 2014, but the prohibition on issuing proceedings without an Early Conciliation certificate has already come into effect, doing so on 6 April.

From this date a prospective claimant must have contacted Acas in the prescribed manner during a period of time beginning on 6 April 2014 and ending on 5 May 2014, unless the tribunal claim is presented on or before 5 May in which no requirement to have partaken in Early Conciliation exists.

Importantly, Acas will not be providing legal advice to either party. This should be sought, which means the employee and employer must still think about instructing a solicitor to represent them at any stage.

A lot of hope rests upon the Early Conciliation programme being a success. Both employees and employers will be hoping that it serves their needs more than the current system. Parliament will be hoping for its success just as much, as attempts to relieve the ever-growing burden upon the legal system and judiciary are always seen as being crucial, especially when it comes to putting justice at risk.

If you have any questions about Early Conciliation, or about an employment dispute in general, please call us on {phonenumber}08001 221 2299{/phonenumber} or fill in a web-form and we’ll call you back. Our experienced case handlers will be able to help you, and put you in touch with a solicitor if that’s required in your situation.

For more information on employment law in general, please visit our employment law section.

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