This April, as well as all the usual changes to statutory caps within employment law, has also brought along the introduction of Early Conciliation, in an attempt to further reduce the amount of claims being issued within the Employment Tribunal.
The scheme is handled by ACAS (the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service) and became mandatory from 6th May 2014.
What is early conciliation?
This means that anybody looking to issue a claim through an Employment Tribunal will firstly have to go through early conciliation to see whether there is any possibility of reaching a settlement between the parties.
The short time limit to issue any employment claims within three months shall be put "on hold" for an additional month from when the individual first contacts ACAS. This also can be extended by a further 14 days.
Ultimately, if parties are not interested in discussing scope for settlement, or if discussions break down, ACAS shall provide the claimant with an EC Certificate, which shall have its own unique reference number. It is this unique reference that shall need to be stated to allow the claimant to lodge their claim within the Employment Tribunal, which shall verify that they have participated in the Early Conciliation Scheme.
Why has early conciliation been introduced?
There are both advantages and disadvantages of the scheme to employers.
Early conciliation will allow employers to fully grasp what an individual is looking to claim before receiving the claim form from the Employment Tribunal. However a lot of individuals become too late to lodge a claim as time limits within employment law are extremely tight.
Also, since the introduction of fees in July 2013, a recent report has indicated that the number of claims have dropped by a staggering 78%.
The more cynical among us will form the opinion that a further delay of the time limit by at least a month, or at most a month and 14 days, will allow an individual more time to become more 'savvy' as to their rights under employment law, and also more time to find the money to lodge their claim.
A further technical change only implemented some days before the scheme came into force means that if an individual is looking to lodge a claim against a number of respondents (usually in discrimination and/or TUPE claims) a form must be lodged to ACAS for each party.
Will early conciliation make a difference to UK businesses?
Overall, as the majority of claims tend to settle anyway, it is doubtful that this introduction will make a substantial difference to the overall claims within the Employment Tribunal. However, it is guaranteed to create another 'hurdle' for both parties to deal with – along with introducing more technical issues, particularly on the strict subject of time limits.
Want to know how the new legislation affects you and your business? At Howells, we specialise in all aspects of employment law. For advice and essential information about employment issues, talk to us– call 0808 178 2773 today.