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ACAS Early Conciliation: What a Difference a Day Makes

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Anne Mannix of Averta Employment Lawyers discusses the importance of getting your timing right when contemplating early conciliation.

Since 6 May, new rules have made it obligatory for would be claimants to contact Acas to attempt early conciliation of most tribunal claims before such a claim (e.g. unfair dismissal, discrimination) can be made to an employment tribunal.

So now, if you want to issue proceedings in the employment tribunal, you must now contact Acas first, (whether by telephone or on a specific form) and provide some information. Once you have made contact, an Acas officer will be in touch and take down information, including whether you want to try to conciliate with the employer. Even if you don’t want to participate in conciliation through Acas, you still have to make contact with Acas, as they issue a certificate (EC Certificate); which contains a unique reference number that will need to include this on the application to the tribunal.

For senior executives, Tribunals may not be the obvious place to argue for compensation (as the limits are quite low) but the threat of a tribunal claim is a useful tactic in the lawyer’s armoury. With that in mind, Acas may need to be involved (after speaking to your lawyer first) in order to give any threats of litigation some credibility.

If you want to try early conciliation, your information will be sent to a conciliation officer who will be in contact. With your agreement, Acas will also be in contact with the employer and the Acas officer will attempt to get a settlement within a period of one calendar month.

This period runs from the date on which you first get in touch with Acas, but can be extended by up to two weeks. If conciliation fails then the EC Certificate is issued. So all this leaves us with some timing considerations such as:

How does this fit in with the long established time limit of 3 months (less one day) for bringing claims to the employment tribunal?

What if you don’t contact Acas until the day before a claims needs to be submitted? Will you run out of time?

The rules work so that there is never less than a month after receiving the EC Certificate to bring your tribunal claim. This should be enough time to get the claim drafted and submitted. But what does “month” mean in this context? Curiously, and owing to a difference in the wording, the approach to calculation is by reference to the corresponding date (i.e., not less one day). Or is it?

Our advice is until the lawyers have finished battling this one out, the safest approach is not to leave contacting Acas to the last minute, thereby avoiding disputes over whether a claim is in time or not. To be even safer, take good legal advice at the earliest opportunity.

For further guidance on early conciliation and employment tribunals please call Anne Mannix on 0870 421 1952


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