Early conciliation: Act now

The process for dealing with Employment Tribunal claims is changing and acting now could save your organisation time and money further down the line.

By Ruth Rule-Mullen, Forbes Solicitors.

From 6 April 2014 employees who wish to bring Employment Tribunal claims against their employer will first have to go through ACAS' Early Conciliation Service.

This means that the employee will contact ACAS and request Early Conciliation. ACAS will then telephone the employee to gather information about the dispute with the employer. ACAS will then aim to contact the person named on the form at the employer's business within one working day of receiving the case.

Previously as an employer, the first information you would have received would be an ET1 Claim Form from the Employment Tribunal indicating that an employee was pursuing a claim. At that point, many of you would have obtained legal advice relating to the claim.

From 6 April the first step in the process will be receipt of a telephone call from ACAS to the employer about the potential claim. This may come as a surprise if you were not aware of a potential problem and you will be expected to respond to ACAS quickly with information about the dispute. The aim is to try and resolve the dispute before the matter proceeds to Tribunal.

What do employers need to do?

Act now - decide who within your organisation will have authority to deal with ACAS in terms of providing information and/or negotiating in respect of a claim.

Seek legal advice early in respect of any disputes because ACAS may contact you before you even know the employee is intending to bring a claim. If you have not sought advice, you may end up resolving a claim which you might be able to win, or where you may be able to negotiate at a lower level.

Speak to all of your employees so that they know who to refer that call to within your organisation. We envisage that if employees are not made aware of this, they could start to enter into negotiations without authority to resolve such claims or provide incorrect information about a dispute. Remember - the employee may put the name of the person whom the dispute is about on the ACAS form rather than the person who would be dealing with any potential claim or negotiation. That could place your business and/or the individual in a difficult position in trying to defend any claim if it is not resolved.