Early Conciliation is a process which intends to help resolve workplace disputes without the need to go to the Employment Tribunal.
It has been mandatory to go through the ACAS Early Conciliation process before filing a claim in the Employment Tribunal since May 2014.
There are many types of workplace disputes where both the employer and the employee would prefer the matter to be resolved outside of court. This can avoid stress and save legal costs and time for both employees and employers.
It is mandatory to go through ACAS Early Conciliation for many types of employment disputes including:
To begin the process of Early Conciliation, you must contact ACAS by filling out an Early Conciliation form online. It’s extremely important that this is done within the relevant time frame or you may be out of time to pursue your legal claims.
Generally, you have three months minus one day from the date of the act you are complaining about to file a claim in the Employment Tribunal. You must fill out an Early Conciliation form within this time frame. Going through Early Conciliation will extend the limitation date to bring a claim in the tribunal in most cases.
If you are intending to sue an individual as well as an organisation, you must fill out a separate Early Conciliation form for each. Failure to do so will mean you are unable to pursue the claim against both parties.
Once you have completed the form, you will receive an automated acknowledgement from ACAS. They will check that the information you have given is correct. It’s crucial that at this stage you have correctly identified your employer - this may not always be as obvious as it seems. You should check your contract of employment and payslips to determine the legal identity of your employer.
If your employer is incorrectly identified, this could cause problems further down the line filing your claim at tribunal. You should seek legal advice if you are uncertain about this.
ACAS will make an effort to contact you by phone or email, often a day or so after the form is filled out. If they do not hear from you ACAS may close the conciliation process within two weeks of you submitting the form, usually without having contacted the employer or person you are intending to sue. You have to be proactive in engaging with ACAS.
ACAS will explain what the conciliation process will involve and what the conciliator’s role will be. With ACAS as the go-between, some of the emotion is taken out. This is useful as workplace disputes that cannot be resolved informally are often emotionally charged situations.
With the involvement of the conciliator, the parties may be able to find some common ground and reach a compromise they are both prepared to accept. If this occurs, they must both then sign an agreement setting out the terms of settlement called a COT3.
ACAS will prepare the COT3 with the involvement of both parties. The COT3 is a legally binding agreement in which normally the employer agrees to pay the employee a compensation sum and, sometimes, provide a reference and they both agree not to bad mouth each other. There is scope to agree other terms as well.
In agreeing to a COT3 the employee agrees to waive their claims and not to pursue them in a tribunal.
If an agreement cannot be reached (sometimes the employer does not want to engage in settlement discussions at all) or you may not wish to engage in settlement discussions, ACAS will close the conciliation process and issue a certificate to confirm that the process has concluded. At this stage, you are free to then submit your claim to the Employment Tribunal. You must include the certificate number issued by ACAS on your claim.
You can use an employment solicitor to represent you throughout the Early Conciliation process and to act for you in making a tribunal claim. As your legal representative in conciliation, an employment solicitor can enter into an agreement on your behalf, so they will keep in touch regularly in order to provide you with updates whenever any progress is made.
Homa Wilson is an employment solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
Slater and Gordon are experts in every area of employment law. If you need representation at an Employment Tribunal or through the Early Conciliation process give us a call on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online.