Mandatory ACAS conciliation has been bandied about for the best part of a year, and it’s finally coming into play on 6 April 2014. So will this new concept revolutionise the concept of early settlement?
This remains to be seen, however for the first time since the creation of Employment Tribunals (then called Industrial Tribunals) in 1964; all potential claimants will need to contact ACAS before submission of a claim. The idea is that ACAS will offer the opportunity for Early Conciliation (EC) and this will lead to resolution of the dispute saving parties time and cost.
Whether you are a potential claimant or respondent the burning question will be how will it work? Well, there will be four steps to the procedure which will be administered through ACAS:
1. The potential claimant will be required to complete a simple form (the EC request form) which requires them to provide some very basic details such as their name and address including details of any potential respondent. It’s worthy of note that they are not required to provide details of any claim at that stage.
2. When ACAS receives the EC request form, the running of the limitation period will be suspended to allow conciliation to take place.
3. A conciliation officer will then try and promote a settlement agreement between the parties during a “prescribed period”, which the government has indicated will be for one month.
4. If the conciliating officer concludes that settlement is not possible during the prescribed period or that the said period expires without settlement being reached, the officer will issue a certificate to that effect. This certificate will then allow the claimant to bring a claim in the employment tribunal.
Should the potential claimant have a representative (legal or a trade union) on board then they will be able to instigate the above procedure on their behalf.
The new EC procedure could be likened to the statutory dispute resolution procedure pre-April 2009 with the material difference being that the former was dealt with internally. This coupled with tribunal fees and the fact that there is no statutory duty for potential respondents to engage in the procedure, it might be the case that respondents take the approach to “wait and see” whether litigation is pursued. Whether this will reduce the ‘red tape’ promised by the government remains debatable.