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Resolving workplace disputes with the help of your solicitor and Acas early conciliation

15 February 2017

Resolving workplace disputes as early as possible is preferable and the best way to ensure that problems do not escalate and end up in an employment tribunal.

 
Employees should always use your appeals or grievance procedure to try to resolve any issues or complaints they may have before taking more formal action.  However, as an employer you need to be mindful of the fact that they might be reluctant to do this, partly because they may be concerned about your independence and also because they may be worried about missing the strict time limits that exist for bringing an employment tribunal claim.  These time limits are quite short and generally require an employee to bring a claim within three months from the date on which they were dismissed or the event they are complaining about occurred.

 

As Sarah Everton, employment law specialist at Myers & Co, solicitors in Staffordshire explains, there is a scheme in place to try to ensure that attempts are made to resolve workplace disputes without the need for employees to make a claim and which can take some of the time pressure away by extending the time within which employment tribunal proceedings must be started by up to one month and 14 days.  Use of the scheme is, in most cases, compulsory.

Acas early conciliation

From May 2014, employees who are thinking of making an employment tribunal claim need to inform the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) first under the mandatory early conciliation scheme. This is a legal requirement, unless an exemption applies.  If the employer and employee agree to participate in the scheme, Acas will work with both parties to try to resolve the dispute and prevent it resulting in an employment tribunal claim.   It costs nothing for an employee to use the scheme so it is a free way of attempting to settle disputes.

The scheme is also free to employers, although we always advise employers who are contacted by Acas to seek legal advice before beginning formal discussions with the scheme administrators.  This is so we can advise you on the strength of any claim you are facing and the possible outcomes if the matter were to proceed to the tribunal.  Armed with this information, you can make an informed decision about the approach you want to take to the discussions.  You also have the benefit of being able to take further advice from us as the discussions progress.

Tribunal claims are not accepted unless the dispute has first been referred to Acas and a conciliation certificate issued if the conciliation fails and the matter cannot be resolved. This certificate confirms that the early conciliation requirements have been met and that the claim can therefore proceed to tribunal.

When Acas early conciliation is appropriate

The requirement to notify Acas applies to almost all intended tribunal claims, with only a small number of exceptions, including where:

  • the employee is one of many employees making a claim against you and another employee has already made a request to Acas for early conciliation in respect of the same dispute; or
  • the employee has been unfairly dismissed and intends to ask the employment tribunal for what is known as ‘interim relief’, which is an order that you continue to employ them until their claim for unfair dismissal has been heard by the tribunal.

Even where an exemption applies it is possible for Acas to be asked to conciliate the dispute if you and the employee want them to.

For more information about the exceptions to the requirement to notify Acas under the early conciliation scheme, please contact your solicitor for advice.

Impact of early conciliation

Last year Acas published statistics on the effect its early conciliation scheme was having on employment tribunal claims, which showed that 71% of claims reported to Acas under the scheme did not go to an employment tribunal after the assistance of Acas.  Just over half of those surveyed said that taking part in the process made it quicker to resolve their tribunal claim. This is a testament to the scheme’s usefulness, particularly when combined with legal advice on the prospects of a claim being successfully pursued.   Clear legal advice at the outset of a matter helps to focus the parties’ minds and makes you realistic about what can and cannot be achieved through the negotiation process.

Conclusion

Remember in most cases your employees will have to follow the early conciliation scheme rules before making a tribunal claim against you, and that you can also take the initiative and suggest use of the scheme yourself to stop a workplace conflict getting out of hand.  However, you need to be mindful of the fact that some employees may seek to use the Acas scheme to try to force the settlement of a claim with no real prospects of success.  For this reason, it is important that you seek legal advice whenever a dispute is referred to Acas for resolution.

For a confidential discussion about Acas early conciliation, or employment disputes more generally, please contact Sarah Everton at Myers & Co on 01782 577000 or by email to sarah.everton@myerssolicitors.co.uk.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only.  They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

 
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Sarah Everton

DDI: 01782 525012

E: sarah.everton@myerssolicitors.co.uk



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