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ACAS early conciliation – what is the process and how can we help you with it?

ACAS early conciliation is a mandatory process the vast majority of potential claimants have to use before they can make a claim in the employment tribunal. As a result, many employers, as potential respondents, may also need to engage in the process. In this article, I look at what ACAS early conciliation is in practice and how we at View HR can assist you in using it to your advantage.

Why is ACAS early conciliation important?

Potential claimants (“C”) must tell ACAS that they are considering making a claim to the employment tribunal before doing so. It will be rejected if they try and make a claim without doing so. ACAS will offer ‘early conciliation’ after being contacted by C. This means they will offer to talk to both the C and the employer against whom they are considering bringing the claim, the respondent (“R”). What is often forgotten is that an R can also request talks through early conciliation.

What are the benefits of early conciliation?

  • It is free and confidential to both parties.
  • It is voluntary – even though the C has to contact ACAS, both parties can refuse to enter talks without any consequences.
  • A settlement may be reached that can include outcomes not available at the tribunal, for example, an agreed reference.
  • If a settlement is reached, it will likely save time and cost as opposed to going through full tribunal proceedings.

Are there time limits, and how long does early conciliation last?

Yes, there are strict time limits. A C has to make contact with ACAS to start early conciliation within 3 months minus one day of the date of the issue, for example, being dismissed for an unfair dismissal claim. If someone is dismissed on 8 May 2024, they would have until 7 August 2024 to initiate early conciliation, which can last up to six weeks. Early conciliation can be brought to an end earlier than that if either party indicates they do not want to continue with it. (Note – there are further time limits for then going on to make a tribunal claim, which is outside the scope of this article).

What do conciliators do as part of early conciliation?

A conciliator should remain impartial, discussing the issues with both sides. They should not specifically advise either party but can explore the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case with them and discuss possible options without making recommendations. If an agreement is reached, they will assist in writing it up in a COT3 agreement. This will become legally binding once the wording of the document is agreed. Both parties will need to sign it.

What if an agreement is not reached?

The conciliator will send the C a certificate with a number on it, which they require to put on the claim form for the employment tribunal to avoid it being rejected.  ACAS conciliation can, however, continue throughout the life of the tribunal proceedings.

So, how can we help you if you are contacted by ACAS for early conciliation?

Firstly, we can assess the situation that has led to the early conciliation. We will advise you in more detail on the strengths and weaknesses of your position and help you come to a commercial decision as to whether or not to take part in conciliation. If we advise that you do take part, we will help assist you in deciding if any offers should be made to settle the matter. It may be the case that, commercially, some offer is the best approach, even if you have done nothing wrong.

Secondly, we can talk to the ACAS conciliator and the other party on your behalf, taking over the stresses and strain of dealing with the matter. We will always give feedback to you at every stage, adapting our approach and advice as the situation changes. Claimants can often act in an unexpected way, and we have years of experience seeing this. It is very unlikely something will happen that we have not seen before!

Finally, we can deal with any agreement reached on your behalf, drafting the wording of the COT3 agreement and even signing it off.

Many employers are understandably anxious when suddenly faced with a phone call or email from ACAS.  ViewHR will help ease that anxiety and help you map the best path through the process, assisting you with reaching the best result in the circumstances. Contact the team today.