New Employment Tribunal rules mean employees must now try conciliation services before bringing a legal claim against their employer.
The rules which came into force at the beginning of April were initially voluntary but have become compulsory from the 6 May 2014. The new rules were introduced by The Employment Tribunals (Early Conciliation: Exemptions and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2014.
Employees are therefore under an obligation to see if their claim can be resolved by employment relations experts Acas before they are able to take their case to the Employment Tribunal.
What is Acas?
Acas stands for Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service and is a trusted advisor on dispute resolution used by the Government, employers and employees. It was founded in 1975 and has over 30 years' experience of working with all types of organisations.
Acas is primarily funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), but it is a non-departmental body, governed by an independent Council. It is therefore independent, impartial and confidential.
Acas provides information, advice and guidance on dispute resolution and preventing workplace disputes as well as offering training and services to resolve disputes that do occur.
What Does the New Procedure Mean in Practice?
In practice the new rules mean that employees that have a dispute with their employer must notify Acas before brining a claim to the Employment Tribunal. The procedure known as Early Conciliation offers an opportunity to settle workplace disputes without going to court. Until the rule change, employees only needed to inform Acas once a claim had already been issued.
The employee’s notification to Early Conciliation will need to be brought within the normal time limit for brining an unfair dismissal claim which is generally three months. This can be done online. Once notified, Acas will contact the employee to offer a consultation. There is a time limit of one month for the conciliation process to complete with the possibility of a two week extension if required.
If the employee does not consent to Acas settling the case with the employer or if the employer is unwilling to engage in the process then the employee will be able to bring an employment tribunal claim. However, Acas will need to issue an early conciliation certificate first. Once this is issued, the employee has another month to issue their claim in the Employment Tribunal.
It should be noted that although the rules mean applications to Early Conciliation are now compulsory, the Acas process operates on the basis of voluntary cooperation. Although this does not guarantee that disputes will be resolved it is hoped that it will encourage a less adversarial approach to resolving disputes in the workplace.