The obvious route to avoid the employment tribunal is for employees and employers to discuss workplace issues as they arise and to resolve them before they become disputes. However if informal workplace conversations or more formal approaches such as a grievance procedure don’t work, employers can find themselves facing a claim in the employment tribunal. The question is, how to avoid the claim being heard, in public, in the employment tribunal.
Before commencing a claim in the employment tribunal the employee must inform Acas – please note strict time limits apply at every stage so don’t delay. Acas will offer the employee what is known as “early conciliation” (to distinguish it from “conciliation”, also offered by Acas but available once the employment tribunal claim is underway). If the employee wants to pursue early conciliation, Acas will contact the employer and see if employer is prepared to take part too.
And an employer can contact Acas for early conciliation if they thinks a dispute with an employee could lead to employment tribunal
If either party doesn’t want to go ahead with early conciliation, or if it’s not possible to reach an agreement, Acas will issue a certificate which the employee will need to lodge with their employment tribunal claim if they decide this is the course they want to take – again please note strict time limits apply.
So what is early conciliation? Early conciliation is a free and swift method of settling a workplace dispute, thereby preventing a costly and time consuming claim in the employment tribunal.
How does early conciliation work? The employee will provide the Acas conciliator with a full account of the issues as the employee sees it, for example the amount of wages they claim are owed to them and the employer’s response so far. The Acas conciliator is impartial and does not give advice but helps both parties to identify the issues and to reach an agreement. If either participant requires advice they will need to contact for example the CAB or a solicitor who specialises in employment law.
Acas has recently highlighted the emotional toll workplace disputes can have on employees. Visit the Acas website for a list of the sources of support, from Mind to the NHS. See the Getting emotional support section of the webpage, What you need to do: Getting an agreement by early conciliation.
Agreement reached in early conciliation is recorded in Acas document COT3 and is legally binding. COT3 can contain agreements the employment tribunal cannot order such as to provide a reference.
However if no agreement is reached it is up to the employee to make their claim to the employment tribunal within the strict time limits.
As is the case with employment tribunal settlements, if an employer fails to make a payment to an employee under a COT3 the government can help. See the gov.uk webpage, Employment tribunal: penalty enforcement and naming scheme. Under this scheme the employer is fined and named publicly. Another option is an enforcement scheme, the Acas and Employment Tribunal Fast Track Scheme. Alternatively there’s a Court procedure using form N322B.