From May onwards, employees will usually only be able to bring an employment tribunal claim against their employer if they have referred the issue to Acas for early conciliation first. The reform is intended to reduce the number of cases going to employment tribunals. It remains to be seen whether it will achieve this aim.
Early conciliation will be available from 6 April 2014 and will be compulsory for tribunal claims lodged on or after 6 May 2014. After that, tribunal claims will not be accepted unless the complaint has been referred to Acas and a conciliation certificate issued. This certificate confirms that the early conciliation requirements have been met.
Complaints can be referred to Acas online, by post or over the phone. Employees will have to tell Acas their name and address and that of the employer involved. They do not have to provide details of their complaint at this stage.
Once a complaint has been received, Acas will make “reasonable attempts” to contact the employee and, with the employee’s consent, the prospective respondent (the employer). If Acas cannot make contact with one of these, it must conclude that settlement is not possible and issue a conciliation certificate.
If Acas manages to contact both parties to the dispute and they agree to participate in the scheme (participation is voluntary), early conciliation can take place for up to a month, plus a further 14 days in some situations. The conciliation period “stops the clock” for lodging a tribunal claim, so the time limit will not expire while Acas is attempting to conciliate.
If the Acas conciliation officer concludes at any point during the conciliation period that it is not possible to achieve a settlement, or the conciliation period ends without agreement, Acas must issue a conciliation certificate. The employee will have at least four weeks from the date the conciliation certificate is issued to lodge a claim, even if the limitation period would normally have expired before then.