For most claims in the Employment Tribunal the time limit to make a claim is normally 3 months (less a day) from the date of the relevant event. For example, in an unfair dismissal claim this could be the date of dismissal (or the “effective date of termination”) and in an Equality Act 2010 claim this could be the date of an act of discrimination. Where ACAS Early Conciliation is required this time limit is extended.
The aim of ACAS Early Conciliation is to resolve the dispute without the need for an Employment Tribunal claim to be lodged. In the vast majority of cases the Early Conciliation process is mandatory. This means that ACAS must be notified and an Early Conciliation Certificate must be issued at the end of the process if a claim is to be pursued. Although the process itself is mandatory, neither party is actually obliged to take part. If one of the parties is not willing the process can be brought to an end as quickly as it begins. If however both parties are willing discussions to resolve the dispute can last for a period of up to 1 month, which can be extended by a further 14 days with agreement. This means that Early Conciliation can be brief or lengthy in the context of the relatively short limitation period for Employment Tribunal claims.
Sections 207B(3) and 207B(4) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 set out 2 methods by which time is extended by Early Conciliation, commonly known as the “stop the clock” and “add one month” methods respectively. The interaction between these 2 methods, the first of which extends the original 3 month time limit by stopping the clocking for the length of time Early Conciliation takes place and the second of which ensures that there is a month remaining at the end of the Early Conciliation process, was considered by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Luton Borough Council v Haque (UKEAT/0180/17/JOJ).
The Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that the time limits are applied sequentially and that they are not alternatives. This decision has helped to clarify that in relevant Employment Tribunal proceedings following the Early Conciliation procedure there will always be a period of at least 1 month between the claimant receiving the Early Conciliation Certificate and the time limit to issue a claim in the Employment Tribunal.