Employment claims: ACAS ‘Mandatory Early Conciliation’ launches in April 2014
From April 2014 there will be a new duty on parties and ACAS to attempt conciliation before an employment claim is submitted, known as ‘Mandatory Early Conciliation’.The new scheme introduces a four step procedure which must be followed in most situations:-Step 1 Before lodging a claim in the Employment Tribunal, a prospective Claimant must send ACAS relevant information concerning the claim, which is likely to need to be in a prescribed format.Step 2 ACAS must send a copy of the information to a relevant conciliation officer.Step 3 The ACAS officer must try to promote settlement within a prescribed period which is likely to be of one month in duration. If the parties engage with the process and one month is insufficient to reach a settlement, if both parties agree, the period can be extended for a further two weeks.Step 4 If settlement cannot be reached either because it is not possible or because the prescribed period expires, the ACAS officer must issue a certificate to that effect. There is no obligation on a prospective Respondent to engage with Mandatory Early Conciliation and if they do not wish to engage with the process the conciliator should issue the certificate.A prospective Claimant cannot submit a claim to the Employment Tribunal without the certificate issued by ACAS. One of the practical effects of the new regime is the impact that it will have upon the limitation period, being the time in which a prospective Claimant must submit their claim after, for example, a date of dismissal (usually three months). Once a prospective Claimant contacts ACAS, the idea in broad terms, is that ACAS will “stop the clock” on the limitation period. The clock will start running again when ACAS issue the certificate. ACAS has also indicated that it proposes to allow at least a month after the certificate is issued to allow a prospective Claimant to bring their claim. If this is implemented, it would mean that prospective Claimants, who have less than a month of their limitation period left when the clock is stopped, will get extra time once the clock is restarted to bring their claim.There are concerns about how the new regime will be administered and it remains to be seen whether there will be satellite litigation about time limits. Such litigation would defeat the thinking behind early conciliation, namely early and cost effective resolution of claims. Full regulations governing the process are due to be published before April 2014.
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