Anyone who wants to make a claim against their employer, under employment law, must notify ACAS first. The idea behind this is that participants will enter a conciliation process and many claims will never reach a tribunal hearing.
ACAS has a month to attempt to resolve an employment dispute before a tribunal claim can be made and the aim of the new approach is to try to reduce the number of claims that get to the overburdened tribunal arena.
In 2011/12, conciliation resolved 21,000 workplace disputes. It helps to identify which claims have validity that the system must consider and ensures that claimants are genuine about issuing proceedings. The service is free and it’s been suggested that it will save businesses money long term by avoiding the need to defend a claim when it lands on their doormat.
ACAS is already overworked and has insufficient resources; adding this service is unlikely to help matters in this respect although ACAS has received £3m in additional funding. Some criticism of the addition of conciliation, at a time when a fee system (in which claimants pay to bring the case to tribunal) has just been introduced, have described the move as a ridiculous overthinking of the process.
The service is likely to be popular with business owners for whom defending a claim can be a painful distraction. Anything which removes what has always been a combative process from their resources will be appreciated, although those respondents who feel they need legal representation to assist with conciliation will find that there’s a risk of increased legal bills, particularly if the matter is not solved by conciliation.
ACAS is, of course, independant of the Tribunal and the conciliation service should not be viewed as a preamble to the hearing. It is completely separate.
The process involves the Claimant notifying ACAS with particular information in a particular manner. ACAS forwards the information to the conciliation officer. That officer will have one month to enable the parties to agree a settlement, but If a one cannot be reached the officer will issue a certificate, enabling the claimant to proceed to the Employment Tribunal.
The performance of the new scheme is closely monitored as action of any kind to improve the efficiency of the employment tribunal system is welcome. For it to succeed employers will need to properly engage with the process. There is always a risk of respondents waiting out the time to see if a claimant is serious about issuing proceedings before they opt for settlement in the hope that, if conciliation is unsuccessful, the claimant may not proceed with their claim.