Monday 6 April saw the introduction of a new system of early conciliation in employment disputes.  The new system becomes compulsory on 6 May.  Most claimants making an employment tribunal claim on or after 6 May will have an obligation to participate in early conciliation with ACAS before they start a claim.

Early conciliation is a relatively straightforward process.  The employee who wants to make a claim fills in a form either online or on the hard copy form which is posted to ACAS.  An early conciliation officer contacts them to explain the process and ask if they want to proceed with conciliation.  If they do the form is sent to an ACAS Conciliation Officer.

The Conciliation Officer then contacts the employer to ask if they will take part in the process.  If they agree the Conciliation officer will make efforts to promote a settlement to resolve the issue.  The parties have a month to try to reach a resolution.  If no solution is found a certificate is issued and the employee may, if they wish, go on to pursue the claim.

The procedure has a number of advantages for both parties most notably it’s simple, quick and low cost.  Negotiated settlements also have the advantage of being able to provide solutions that tribunals cannot order.

There are also some features that may create issues. Employees looking at a simple, low cost option may be encouraged to ‘have a go’ which may discredit the system in an employers’ eyes.  Similarly an entrenched employer with emotions still high following the incident that led to the dispute may be reluctant to properly engage in the process.

ACAS have a good record in achieving settlements so despite the reservations the prospects look good.  No doubt the proof will be in the developments in the coming months…

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