Why Is Early Conciliation So Important In Employment Tribunal Cases?
After a noticeable slump in employment tribunal cases, the number of new single claims has increased by 16% in 6 months (rising from 3,790 in Q1 to 4,390 in Q3 2014/15) and multiple claims increased by 75% (from 10,840 to 18,940) over a 12 month period.
Some say that this marked increase in employment tribunal cases was due to the introduction of tribunal fees, with the cost of launching a claim being between £160 to £250, together with the prospect of later hearing fees and potential costs orders. However, the new early conciliation procedure for lodging a tribunal case may also have influenced the sudden increase in claims.
Acas Early Conciliation Service
In a bid to encourage mediation and early dispute resolution, it is now mandatory for former employees to use the Acas early conciliation service. From 6 May 2015, prospective claimants must also obtain an early conciliation certificate to submit an ET1 claim, and the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has recently upheld 2 tribunal decisions which stress the importance of following this procedure to the letter.
In Cranwell v Cullen, the EAT upheld the tribunal’s decision to reject a claim where the claimant had failed to use the Acas early conciliation service. In this case, conciliation would have been impractical as the allegations related to claims of serious sexual harassment and assault. Notwithstanding this, the EAT stressed the importance of following the early conciliation procedure to the letter.
In Sterling v United Learning Trust, the EAT refused a claim because an incorrect Acas early conciliation number had been submitted on the ET1. By the time the claimant had amended and resubmitted her claim, her claims were out of time. The EAT reiterated that the onus was on the claimant to ensure that all information was correct before lodging a claim.
Whilst extremely strict in its application, it appears that the Acas conciliation scheme is clearly working, with Acas having dealt with 80,000 cases since the early conciliation service was established and with three quarters reported as resolved.
The process was implemented to encourage the settlement of workplace disputes before matters escalate towards industrial action and protracted employment tribunal claims. Only this week workers at Tata Steel have been in the news as they engage with Acas to explore a resolution about a row over pensions and a £2 billion shortfall in the scheme.
So it’s really important for business owners and employers to proactively engage in the early conciliation process to avoid the time, cost and business disruption that legal proceedings with employment tribunal cases inevitably bring.
However the Acas chairman Sir Brendan Barber fears that may all change if the UK leaves the European Union and has recently stated that the employment rights which we take for granted could be at risk if we opt out of Europe.
Article written by Rachel Furniss.
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