ACAS – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service is a Crown non-departmental public body of the UK Government. They are an independent mediatory body that exists to help resolve employer-employee issues and situations before they even go to tribunal.
The ACAS Early Conciliation Process is the last step that an employee needs to have gone through before they can actually make a claim at an employment tribunal. This process, if used wisely, can result in very satisfactory, mutually beneficial outcomes for both parties. The process is mandatory and claims are not allowed to go to tribunal without getting an ACAS certificate number.
The process can be initiated online and should take no more than 4 weeks unless extended by agreement. It is available at no cost but employees should consider getting the right representation so that someone well versed with the law can negotiate for them and increase their chances of a favourable outcome without even having to go to court.
Many employers are taken by surprise when they receive the telephone call or correspondence from ACAS to inform them that a former employee has lodged a claim against them. It’s important, though, to not overreact at this point and to keep in mind that the Early Conciliation Process is actually a golden opportunity that should rarely, if ever, be passed up. Early Conciliation is an excellent opportunity to reach an amicable settlement without it costing vast amounts of time, money and possibly reputation.
Given that ACAS’s role is to mediate and resolve, you will be asked to attend an early conciliation meeting as the preliminary stage in the investigation. The person who will mediate between you and your ex-employee is referred to as the Conciliator or Conciliation Officer. It’s often easy to believe or feel that this person is on the side of your ex-employee but this is never the case as the Conciliator is required by law and principle to adopt a neutral, non-biased approach and to not take sides.
Through the Conciliator you can gather information about the potential claim against you and what allegations and claims your ex-employee may try to bring against you at tribunal. This will give you time to investigate and prepare a great defence if it comes to it.
Often times, sticky situations with ex-employees or even current employees tend to arise as a result of a misunderstanding of a decision or a set of decisions that the employer may have made. The Early Conciliation process can be an excellent opportunity to rectify any false impressions that your employee may have with regard to the situation. Therefore, it’s prudent for employers to provide some evidence to support their assertions. However, it’s important to remember that you’re not under obligation to provide evidence during Early Conciliation. Still, showing that you have compelling evidence to use in your defence can often discourage the ex-employee from pursuing the claim.
Ultimately the goal of Early Conciliation is to see that both parties reach an amicable settlement without the hassle and rigours of going to court. This should be your goal too as early conciliation costs nothing. Remember that, if a claim goes to tribunal you and your employee will incur costs and should you as the employer fail to win at tribunal, you may be liable to bear the legal costs incurred on the part of your ex-employee in addition to the claim settlement. Therefore, with very few exceptions, early conciliation is the best possible time to settle amicably and both employers and employees should strive to do so.