If a workplace dispute has escalated and the employee is considering making a tribunal claim, there are steps they will need to follow before they can take their complaint to the Employment Tribunal. ACAS rules require a potential claimant to go through the Early Conciliation process before a tribunal claim can be issued.
ACAS early conciliation is a free and independent service, designed to resolve workplace disputes and avoid the need to go before the tribunal.
The following guide looks at the process of early conciliation, in particular, completion of the ACAS early conciliation form and how this form fits into the wider early conciliation process.
What is the ACAS early conciliation form?
If an individual is considering legal proceedings against their employer, prior to issuing a tribunal claim they will usually be required to notify the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) of their intention to do so using an ACAS early conciliation form.
ACAS is an independent public body that provides free and impartial advice to employers and employees on employment rights, best practice and policies, as well as resolving workplace conflict. Furthermore, when a workplace dispute cannot otherwise be resolved, ACAS can intervene by way of early conciliation, helping the parties to resolve their issues without recourse to legal proceedings.
By submitting the early conciliation form, this will provide ACAS with an opportunity to invite the parties to engage in the early conciliation process.
Why is the ACAS form needed?
Before being able to issue a tribunal claim, it is a pre-requisite that the claim is registered with ACAS under their mandatory early conciliation scheme. This requires the prospective claimant to obtain an early conciliation (EC) certificate before presenting their ET1 claim form to the tribunal.
As such, in order to acquire the necessary EC certificate, the prospective claimant will first need to file an ACAS early conciliation form. Thereafter, if ACAS has not been able to help the parties reach an agreement, either because one or both parties declined to participate in early conciliation, or the process proves to be unsuccessful, the claimant will be given a certificate.
The EC certificate will contain a unique reference number, and it is this number that will be needed to submit any claim to the employment tribunal.
Who needs to complete the ACAS early conciliation form?
Any individual looking to make a claim to the employment tribunal must first submit an early conciliation form to notify ACAS of their intentions. That said, there are limited exceptions to the rules, for example, where ACAS does not have the power to conciliate on some, or all, of the claim, or the employer has already been in contact with ACAS.
It is not uncommon for an employer to have concerns about the possibility of a tribunal claim being lodged against them and, as such, they may want to initiate early conciliation with a view to resolving the matter before it gets that far. In this way, the parties can often find a suitable way forward, using early conciliation to amicably settle a workplace dispute on mutually agreeable terms.
What does the early conciliation form mean for time limits?
As long as an ACAS early conciliation form is submitted within the relevant timeframe, namely, three months from the point at which time starts to run, an employee who obtains an EC certificate should benefit from an extension to the usual time limits.
Depending on the nature of the prospective claim, this will be achieved in one of two ways: either by adopting the “stop the clock approach”, namely, between the date ACAS receives the notification form until the date an EC certificate is issued, or simply by “adding one month” post-issue. As such, the claimant will have at least one month after the end of early conciliation to make their claim.
In the event that a claim is not registered with ACAS within the requisite three months, the clock will not be stopped, nor will an additional month be added, and the prospective claimant will be out of time to bring their claim.
It is also important to bear in mind that although the deadline for making a tribunal claim will be pushed back where a prospective claimant has submitted an ACAS early conciliation form, this does not apply when an employer initiates this process having contacted ACAS directly.
How to complete the ACAS early conciliation form
The ACAS early conciliation form will need to be completed online. It must also only be completed in circumstances where the individual has an existing dispute with their employer and they intend to issue tribunal proceedings.
By submitting the form this is making clear that if early conciliation cannot help, they are intending to make a tribunal claim. That said, the notification form is not an application to the employment tribunal, merely an indication that the employee intends to lodge a claim, if the matter cannot otherwise be resolved.
To complete the form, the employee will need their employer’s name and address. These details can usually be found on their payslip, contract of employment or any written statement of particulars of their employment. In the event of any uncertainty, it may be advisable to check directly with the employer or against information documented with Companies House.
It is important to get the name of the prospective respondent right, ie; their legal identity, otherwise risk any subsequent claim being rejected by the tribunal if the name on the claim form and EC certificate do not match. The prospective claimant must also give their own name and contact details.
Once the form has been submitted it will automatically be acknowledged via an automated email, assuming an email address is provided, or by letter if not.
This acknowledgment will include the claimant’s name, the date of receipt and the name given for the respondent. However, mail-filtering systems designed to keep out SPAM can often accidentally filter any email acknowledgement, such that the intended recipient is not notified that the email did not deliver.
To ensure that any acas.org.uk emails are not filtered into the recipient’s “junk” or “bulk” folders, the individual submitting the notification form should ensure they add acas.org.uk to their list of trusted senders.
What is the ACAS early conciliation process?
Once the employee has submitted the ACAS early conciliation form and received their acknowledgement, they will be invited to contact ACAS via telephone so that they can answer some basic questions about their workplace dispute and prospective claim. The process of early conciliation will also be explained and the employee will be asked if they would like to participate.
In the event that the prospective claimant declines to engage in early conciliation, they will be given an EC certificate so that they may proceed with their claim. If, on the other hand, the individual agrees to early conciliation, ACAS will contact their employer to see if they are also willing to take part in talks.
Subject to the agreement of both parties, the matter will be passed to an ACAS conciliator. The conciliator will then liaise between the parties, via telephone, for a period of up to one month. However, this period can be extended by two weeks if the parties are close to reaching an agreement.
Conciliation is a confidential process so any information disclosed to the conciliator will not be passed onto the tribunal in due course. Further, the conciliator will only discuss certain matters with the employer where there is express agreement from the employee.
In the event that the outcome is unsuccessful, and the dispute cannot be resolved through early conciliation, ACAS will provide the employee with the EC certificate at this stage. Further, if the prospective respondent declines to engage in early conciliation, ACAS will again provide the employee with an EC certificate.
Even in circumstances where early conciliation has not proved to be successful, ACAS can continue to assist the parties right up until the employment tribunal outcome, although this is referred to as conciliation rather than early conciliation. Normally, however, the parties will still be assisted by the same conciliator that they had previously.
Where early conciliation has been successful, the ACAS conciliator will document the terms of the agreement within what’s known as a COT3 settlement form. This will then constitute a legally binding agreement that can be enforced through the courts. Further, having settled a dispute via early conciliation, the employee will no longer be able to bring the matter before the employment tribunal.
How does the form fit into the process?
Although it is a mandatory requirement for the prospective claimant to notify ACAS using an early conciliation form of their intention to make a tribunal claim, participation in the process itself is entirely voluntary.
That said, early conciliation has significant benefits. In particular, it is often quicker, easier, less time-consuming and more cost-effective than dealing with a tribunal claim. It can also help to restore the working relationship between the parties, not least given that they can agree on outcomes that would not be available in the tribunal, such as a written apology. The mandatory nature of the ACAS early conciliation form can also provide the necessary platform for the parties to take advantage of this free-government funded service, and find an acceptable way forward.
Ultimately, however, it is a matter for the parties to assess the benefits of early conciliation in the context of their particular dispute, weighed against the risk of claiming or defending the same matter before an employment tribunal.
ACAS early conciliation form FAQs
What is ACAS early conciliation?
Early Conciliation is a service provided free of charge by ACAS. It is designed to resolve issues between employers and employees without the need to go before the Employment Tribunal. Early conciliation is a mandatory requirement before a tribunal claim can be filed.
How do you start early conciliation?
The process is started by filing the ACAS early conciliation notification form online.
How long do you have to bring an employment tribunal claim?
In most cases, employees have 3 months less one day of termination of contract or the from the date of the offending event (such as an act of discrimination) to issue a tribunal claim.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.