From time to time, employees may claim that they’ve been mistreated in the workplace. If this can't be resolved internally, they may choose to take it further.
You should always try and solve the dispute before the need for further steps, this is called early conciliation. Failure to do so can lead to you being taken to an employment tribunal, with unnecessary stresses and financial damages to pay.
In this guide, we'll discuss what early conciliation is, how it can resolve disputes, and the process both parties must follow.
What is early conciliation?
Early conciliation is a free and confidential service that can be used to settle disputes between employer and employee (also known as potential claimants).
This process is run by the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS). You need to understand the purpose of ACAS conciliation for dispute resolution.
Why do you need early conciliation?
The main purpose of early conciliation is to resolve workplace disputes in a legally binding way and avoid the need for an employment tribunal claim. By using the conciliation process, disputes can be solved in an acceptable manner between both parties.
As an employer, you always aim to solve any disputes you have before they get taken to an employment tribunal.
What is the difference between early conciliation and conciliation?
The main difference between early conciliation and conciliation is when it takes place. Early conciliation takes place before the employment tribunal claim, and conciliation happens after they have made the claim.
Grievances an employee can raise in early conciliation
There are many reasons why an employee may want to raise a claim against you. For example, feeling they were unfairly dismissed against employment law. However, there are many more reasons, such as:
- Maternity or paternity rights.
- Disputes over pay. Such as unpaid wages, or not being paid the national minimum wage.
- Breach of contract.
So as an employer, you need to understand the early conciliation process and if you need to accept it.
How to manage early conciliation in the workplace
As an employer, you must understand the process of starting early conciliation. You never know when it may come your way from an employee.
To start ACAS early conciliation there are certain steps that the employee must take.
Employee completes an Early Conciliation Notification Form
The first stage is that the employee must make ACAS aware that they are making a claim over a workplace dispute.
This is done via an online form, called the Early Conciliation Notification Form. The form must include basic detail of the prospective claimant and the prospective respondent, as well as details surrounding the claim.
For a discrimination claim, the employee can claim against both the employer and anyone else who discriminated against them.
ACAS appoints a conciliation officer
The next step is ACAS appointing a conciliation officer (also known as an ACAS conciliator) to the case. The role of the conciliation officer is to find a solution that both parties find acceptable without the need for a tribunal.
They also do the following:
- Explain the process with both parties.
- Discuss the potential claim and give an overview of the law, employment rights, and specialist advice.
- Discuss with both parties how employment tribunals have considered similar cases in the past.
- Give expert advice surrounding the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
- Discuss possible options with both parties, but remain completely impartial.
- Explain the employment tribunal process.
The conciliation officer attempts to resolve the dispute
The officer will do all they can to avoid a tribunal and resolve the dispute as quickly as possible. They will listen to both parties, take into consideration the events and work to find a solution.
However, this sometimes isn't the case and an employment tribunal is inevitable. If this is the case, the officer will issue an Early Conciliation Certificate.
What is an ACAS Early Conciliation Certificate?
An Early Conciliation Certificate is a document with a unique number on allowing the employee to make a tribunal claim.
This number will need to be put on a "Form ET1". The employee has a month after receiving the certificate to make a claim to an employment tribunal.
Is ACAS early conciliation required before an employee makes an employment tribunal claim?
Early conciliation is required for the employee to take the dispute to an employment tribunal hearing. However, the claim will be rejected unless the early conciliation certificate number is included in the tribunal claim form.
Can you offer an employee a settlement agreement as part of early conciliation?
Yes, you can offer the employee a settlement agreement as part of early conciliation. This can be a good way to hopefully avoid the courtroom. However, when offering your employee a settlement agreement, you need to be aware of the following:
- How strong you feel their case is.
- If you want to keep the employee within your company.
- How much money you owe them.
It's advisable you try and reach a settlement with your employee. As you want to avoid a tribunal as much as possible and the stresses it can bring.
A settlement between both parties is a legally binding agreement. If this happens, ACAS will record this on a "COT 3 Form".
Can employees raise a group claim through
Yes, more than one employee can use early conciliation, this is known as a group claim.
If another employee has started conciliation over the same dispute, it can be taken straight to an employment tribunal, bypassing the process.
What is interim relief?
Interim relief is when your employees can still receive pay and other benefits during the tribunal and conciliation process. This is often the case following unfair dismissal.
This request is typically made after a group of employees have made a claim together.
How long does the employee have to start early conciliation?
An employee must start early conciliation for most claims within three months minus one day from the date of the dispute. For claims of statutory redundancy pay or equal pay, the deadline is six months minus one day.
If the employee misses the deadline, the tribunal claim will also be late meaning they are likely to lose their right to claim.
Does early conciliation affect the timescale for employment tribunal claims?
Usually, the employee has three months minus one day to make an employment tribunal claim against their employer. However, this is paused for early conciliation.
The day the employees first choose to contact ACAS regarding their intention to make a claim is known as Day A. Once ACAS are made aware of early conciliation, the three-month time limit will be paused. This can be paused for up to six weeks.
The time limit will start again once the employee has received the early conciliation certificate, known as Day B. For example:
- Dismissal: 22nd June.
- Day A: 24th June.
- Day B: 5th September.
- Expiry of time limit for tribunal claim: 21st September.
- Last day to make a tribunal claim: 2nd October (the period beginning with the day after Day A and ending with Day B = 42 days).
How long does early conciliation take?
The whole early conciliation process usually takes around four weeks from start to finish. However, it can be extended by a further two weeks if all parties agree.
Get expert advice on early conciliation with Peninsula.
Employees may claim that they’ve been mistreated in the workplace. If this can't be resolved, they may choose to take it further.
You should do everything you can to resolve the dispute with the employee before the need for further steps. Failure to do so can lead to you being taken to an employment tribunal, with unnecessary stresses.
Peninsula offers expert advice for employers on early conciliation should you require it. Our 24/7 HR advice is available 365 days a year.
Want to find out more? Book a free chat with one of our HR consultants. For further information, call0800 028 2420.