Early conciliation has been mandatory since 6th May 2014 and was introduced by the coalition government as part of plans to improving the efficiency of the Employment Tribunal system. Since this date claimants have been required to follow the Early Conciliation process before submitting a claim to the Employment Tribunal.
The advice from ACAS is that “it is always best to resolve workplace disputes as early as possible” and they recommend that complaints are dealt with through the employers grievance and appeals procedures in the first instance.
Where this fails to resolve the issue then ACAS must be notified of an intention to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim. This notification is made through the completion of an Early Conciliation Notification Form online or by telephone. A conciliation officer from ACAS will then respond, usually within 2 days to confirm the basic information and explain the conciliation process. The officer can also talk to the advisor or representative of the complainant.
ACAS say that the evidence shows that most people and their employers wish to take part in a conciliation process and that “reaching a settlement through conciliation at the earliest opportunity is quicker, cheaper and less stressful for all concerned than a Tribunal hearing”.
Where the complainant is willing to try to conciliate the dispute about which they want to make a claim, Acas will then contact the employer to seek their agreement to take part in conciliation. Conciliators remain impartial as they help parties understand the strengths and weaknesses of their case and suggest ways to resolve the issues. If the dispute is resolved an agreement is prepared by ACAS for both parties to sign. This is referred to as a COT3.
Where the dispute is not resolved or one of the parties do not wish to take part in conciliation ACAS will issue an Early Conciliation Form containing a number that must be included on the ET1 form, without which the tribunal will reject the claim. Taking part in conciliation is entirely voluntary and neither the individual nor the employer has to take part in conciliation. However ACAS must be notified of the intention to bring a claim.