To try and get more employment disputes settled outside Employment Tribunals, most potential claimants (there are some exceptions) will now need to contact ACAS and receive a certificate saying that they have complied with early conciliation before they can make a claim (‘the certificate’). The requirement is just to contact ACAS with the names and addresses of the parties in dispute, which can be done online, by phone or by post and to receive the certificate. There is no requirement to enter into any conciliation discussions with the employer. The details are submitted on an early conciliation form, either filled in and submitted by the claimant (online or post) or filled in by ACAS (phone).
Once ACAS has been contacted, an Early Conciliation Support Officer (ECSO) will then get in touch with the potential claimant to get details of the dispute and explain the conciliation process.
If the claimant can’t be reached or doesn’t want to participate in the process, ACAS will issue the certificate so the claim can then be made at the Employment Tribunal.
If the potential claimant does want to take part in the conciliation, the ECSO will pass the matter over to an ACAS conciliator who will contact both parties and ask the potential respondent (employer) if they will take part.
If the potential respondent doesn’t want to, the conciliator will issue the certificate and the claim can be made to the Tribunal.
If both parties are happy to participate then the conciliator has up to one month to help them reach an agreement. The conciliator (with the consent of both parties) can extend this period once, by 14 days, if he or she thinks an agreement will be reached.
Most Employment Tribunal claims have a time limit of 3 months. This means that the claim form has to be with the Tribunal 3 months minus a day from the date that the wrongful act took place. Submitting the early conciliation form will ‘stop the clock’ on the time period for making the claim and the time will start to run again when the certificate is issued (if no settlement has been reached).
If there is less than a month left to go on the time limit when the clock restarts, the potential claimant will still have a whole month from the day they receive the certificate from ACAS in which to bring the claim.
Potential respondents can also contact ACAS asking to take part in early conciliation, but this will not ‘stop the clock’. There is nothing to stop a potential claimant then contacting ACAS to ‘stop the clock’.
Though the legislation takes effect on the 6th of April, the early conciliation process will be compulsory for claims on or after the 6th of May. For claims between the 6th of April and 5th of May, transitional provisions apply. In short, if early conciliation is requested by the claimant ACAS will use the new early conciliation system and the claimant will need a certificate to present his or her claim to the Employment Tribunal.
ACAS has produced a Q&A about the new service here.