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New Employment Tribunal Rules: ACAS gets greater role

AN extra step now has to be taken in any Employment Tribunal case. Before the employee can lodge a claim, he or she has to speak to Acas, the Government’s conciliation service. They will highlight the advantages of resolving matters through dialogue, rather than through Tribunal hearings.

If the employee consents, the Acas officer will speak to the employer about the case and establish if there is any way it can be resolved by agreement, perhaps with a sum of money changing hands or an agreed reference.

Previously, Acas was only notified of a claim only once tribunal proceedings were issued. Now, however, employees will need a “conciliation certificate” from Acas to prove they have spoken to them, before the Tribunal will accept a claim.

Acas is inviting this be done via its website at acas.org.uk/earlyconciliation. The notification will need to be made within the normal time limit for bringing a claim (usually three months less one day from the end of employment).

If either side does not want to negotiate, they can object and take matters further through litigation but the new rules allow for a period of up to a month for any discussions to take place.

Acas say that “early conciliation” will give parties the chance to resolve their differences at the outset and save the costs, as well as the stress, of a tribunal claim. But some employers may also be reluctant to offer a settlement without knowing first if the employee is actually prepared to issue a claim, and pay the fee for this.

Tribunal fees of either £160 or £250,  depending on the complexity of the case, were introduced in July last year and have reduced the number of cases being brought by more than half.

However, this is subject to a legal challenge from trade unions on the basis that it deprives employees of some basic rights, and are unfair because employers don’t have to pay anything until the end of the case.

*Stephen Smith advises employees and employers on claims and can be contacted on ss@theglasgowlawpractice.co.uk