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Anne Sharp

Acas

Chief Executive

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Early Conciliation – what does it mean for employers?

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Anne Sharp, Chief Executive at workplace experts Acas, explains how the introduction of a new service called Early Conciliation in April this year will change how workplace disputes are dealt with in future.

From 6 April this year anyone thinking of making an employment tribunal claim will need to contact Acas first. We will then get in touch and offer a new free service called Early Conciliation to try to resolve the dispute quickly without the need for a Tribunal hearing. The new service will allow an extra month to attempt to resolve the dispute before people hit the deadline for making their claim.

At Acas our advice is always that it’s better to resolve disputes at the earliest possible stage, ideally in the workplace itself. The aim of conciliation is to explore with both parties whether they can find a solution without going to court. 

Our conciliators do not make judgements on the merits of a case, they don’t take sides and they don’t help either side prepare their case for a tribunal. They do use their experience and skills to open up channels of communication and help those involved explore possible solutions. Settlements are legally binding and agreed by the parties, not imposed by Acas.   

Benefits of conciliation

The earlier we can get people talking, the more chance there is of success and there are other good reasons for trying to resolve issues through Acas conciliation:

  • successful conciliation avoids the time, cost and stress involved in a tribunal;  
  • our conciliators are professional, have a good track record of success and get positive feedback from the people they help;
  • Early Conciliation is free.

How will Early Conciliation work?

People will contact Acas using the  form on our website. Within one working day of receiving the form, we will phone the person making the claim to clarify any details and explain EC in more detail. The case will then be passed to a conciliator who will get in touch and see if they can help the two sides come to an agreement.

If those involved do not want to even consider conciliation, we will not delay issuing the certificate which will enable the case to proceed to a tribunal. We expect, however, that in most cases people will want to find out how Acas can help them.

Once we have been notified, the claimant’s time limit for pursuing a tribunal claim (usually three months) is paused. This is known as stop-the-clock. The clock is stopped for a period of up to one calendar month to allow conciliation to take place, with a two-week extension available if necessary. This means that trying to resolve the matter through Early Conciliation will not jeopardise anybody’s right to make a tribunal claim.

We hope to be able to help everyone who takes up the offer of conciliation. However, if Early Conciliation doesn’t resolve the dispute, a certificate will be issued and the claimant will be able to lodge a tribunal claim.

Help from Acas remains available even if Early Conciliation is unsuccessful. Those involved in a case can continue discussions with the same conciliator throughout the period leading up to a tribunal hearing.

Proven track record

Early Conciliation builds on a similar free, voluntary service that Acas has been offering for some time called Pre-Claim Conciliation (PCC). In 2012 PCC helped resolve over 21,000 workplace disputes (75% of cases), saving employers and employees the time, stress and expense of preparing for and attending a tribunal.

Independent research into the PCC service found that when staff, management time and legal costs are factored in, employers save on average £2,700 when compared to resolutions agreed after an employment tribunal claim has been made. 

The research additionally revealed that nearly nine out of ten employers who used our PCC service would use it again and two thirds of employees would advise a friend or relative to use PCC if they were involved in a similar dispute.

Our experience has shown us that by focussing and discussing the issues, looking at all possible ways forward and the options for resolution sooner, a significant amount of claims can be resolved quickly before unnecessary time is wasted and costs incurred.

If you want to find out more about Early Conciliationand how it works visit www.acas.org.uk/earlyconciliation. For further information and advice on any workplace issue call the Acas Helpline on 08457 47 47 47. 

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Anne Sharp

Chief Executive

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