Early conciliation (EC) is a new process and is intended to give parties the opportunity of settling disputes through ACAS to avoid tribunal claims. EC for most types of claim became mandatory from 6 May 2014. It covers, for example; the following types of claim; unfair dismissal, breach of contract, discrimination and equal pay, protection from a detriment and in the situation you describe, unlawful deduction of wages.
How will we know if conciliation has started?
There are five stages to the EC process:
- Stage 1: The claimant must contact ACAS to provide notification of their intention to bring a claim and will provide your details.
- Stage 2: The ACAS EC officer (CO) will contact the claimant to clarify the complaint.
- Stage 3: The CO will then contact you to see if you would like to participate in conciliation.
- Stage 4: If both parties are willing to discuss settlement there will be a period of conciliation for up to a period of one month. This period can be extended for up to 14 days with both parties’ agreement, where there is a prospect of settlement occurring. The CO will explore the options for resolution without the need for a tribunal hearing. This could include the claimant withdrawing the claim or conversely, you paying compensation or in dismissal cases, considering reinstatement or re-engagement. ACAS cannot make any judgment or provide you with legal advice.
- Stage 5: The CO will end the EC process and issue a certificate where at any time it appears that there is no reasonable prospect of achieving settlement. If settlement is reached the CO will prepare a COT3 setting out the terms of the settlement.
Do we get a choice?
Yes. Each party can choose whether or not to participate. If either party refuses to enter into conciliation an EC certificate will be issued to confirm this is the case. You can also withdraw from the process at any time. A claimant is not prevented from bringing a claim if they choose not to participate in the EC process so long as they initially contact ACAS.
Do we have to pay for the service?
No. It’s free.
Will there be ten separate EC periods in this case?
Not necessarily. If one of the employees in the group of ten has already complied with the EC requirements in relation to the same dispute and the claims are similar, the others will not need to comply with this obligation.
When can the employee bring the claim?
The claim cannot be brought until the CO has provided a unique EC reference number. The EC period can give the claimant a longer time period in which to bring a claim of up to one extra month, with a possibility of a two-week extension.
As we have lots of minor tribunal claims each year, do you have any tips for managing early conciliation?
We would recommend that you have one point of contact in your HR Department or at a senior management level for dealing with ACAS. This should be publicised as it is possible employees may give their line manager’s details to ACAS.
You can of course nominate your legal representatives to deal with the CO. This may be advisable where the claim is likely to be complex or the amount of money involved is high. In any event, legal advice may assist at any stage of the EC process to help you understand the merits of the potential claim and decide whether settlement is the right way to proceed bearing in mind ACAS cannot advise you. Not all cases will be suitable for settlement but where they are, EC provides an early cost free mechanism for doing so on a confidential basis.
For more details about Early Conciliation please contact:
+44 (0) 1604 871143
This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.