The numbers of clams being made to employment tribunal continue to concern the Government, so it has been consulting on the concept of Early Conciliation (EC),which will require most potential tribunal claims to be referred to Acas at the initial stage so that conciliation can be offered before a claim can be made at an employment tribunal. If adopted, EC is likely to apply to all claims except those where there is a very short period for presenting a claim or where settlement would not be appropriate.
The onus is on the prospective claimant, rather than his representative, to contact Acas on an EC form, although claimants will be able to refer the Acas conciliation officer to their representative if they wish at a later stage. Acas will record receipt of a completed EC form and the relevant limitation periods will be suspended to allow conciliation to take place. Acas will inform the parties of the limitation period for any claim but prospective claimants will still have to submit claims to a tribunal within the relevant statutory time limit if they wish to progress their claims.
Once Acas receives a claim there will be a two-stage process. An Early Conciliation Support Officer will phone a prospective claimant by the end of the day after their EC form is received. The officer will explain the conciliation process and check whether the prospective claimant requires any reasonable adjustments, for example, the provision of an interpreter.
Where the prospective claimant has indicated that he wishes to attempt EC, the officer will contact the prospective respondent to see if it will engage in discussions. A respondent can decline EC and, if it does so, the officer will notify the prospective claimant and immediately issue a certificate. If a prospective claimant declines to participate in EC at this stage, the officer will not contact the prospective respondent.
Where both parties agree to participate, the officer will have up to a calendar month from the receipt of the EC form to facilitate a settlement. If, during that month, the officer believes that there is no reasonable prospect of achieving a settlement, or discussions fail, or either party withdraws from the process, the officer will end the process and issue a certificate allowing the prospective claimant to present the claim at a tribunal.
If the one-month period is due to expire but the officer considers that there is a reasonable prospect of achieving a settlement, the conciliation period may be extended by up to an additional two weeks with the parties' agreement.
If EC is successful, both parties would sign a binding settlement (either a COT3 or a private agreement) and no tribunal claim would then be brought. However, the officer would still issue a certificate so that, if the settlement fails and a claim is brought, the claimant would be able to show that he or she had first contacted Acas. If only some of the matters in dispute are settled in EC a certificate will be issued to enable the prospective claimant to present a claim for the remaining disputed elements.
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