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New rules for workplace disputes set to start

Introduced by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, the early conciliation scheme will make it compulsory for employees wishing to lodge a tribunal claim to first notify ACAS. At this point both parties will be given the option of resolving the dispute through an ACAS conciliator.

Early conciliation has been available since April this year, but from 6 May the requirement to notify ACAS will be compulsory.

If either side does not wish to conciliate after the claimant has contacted ACAS about the complaint, ACAS will issue a conciliation certificate. The certificate will also be issued if no agreement can be reached after a month.

Without this certificate, a claim will not be accepted by a tribunal.

Tom Flanagan, partner and National Head of Employment Law at Irwin Mitchell, said:

"Businesses are not required to attempt conciliation once ACAS has been notified, but there may be benefits to doing so. A business would have advance notice that an employee is considering bringing a claim and the reasons why. It may be able to settle it quickly and cheaply and, even if that is not possible, a business will get an early start on preparing its defence.

“Unless a claimant is eligible for remission, if a claimant decides to go to Tribunal, they will have to pay a fee of up to &pound250 to issue a claim and a further fee of &pound950 for the final hearing. Many claimants may be more willing to reach a sensible compromise rather than run the risk of losing at Tribunal.

“ACAS will not provide an opinion on the merits of the claim, but will provide information about the law and how compensation is assessed. This may give claimants a more realistic view of the potential value of their claim and the legal hurdles they will have to clear. It may also give an employer advance warning of the claimant’s levels of expectation in terms of settlement.

“There are numerous other things to consider and the only real advantage to rejecting an offer to conciliate is where an employer is already aware of the potential claim and wishes to & lsquo;wait and see’ whether the claimant is serious about the claim and has the funds to issue proceedings.

“This early conciliation period does make it more complicated for a claimant to understand when to file the claim with the Tribunal in compliance with strict time limits so we expect to see more disputes about claims being filed & lsquo;out of time’.”

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