Employers in the UK who have had the misfortune of having faced an Employment Tribunal claim will be aware that before lodging a claim, any potential Claimant is required to attempt to resolve their workplace dispute by using the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Early Conciliation process. ACAS, which manages this conciliation process, is the independent and impartial organisation whose purpose is to help both parties to an employment dispute reach a settlement.
On 1 December 2020, the rules of procedure for ACAS Early Conciliation (EC) were amended. The period allowed for early conciliation increased from four weeks to six weeks with no possibility for an extension. Prior to that date, the period lasted four weeks with an option to extend this by a further 14 days.
ACAS conciliators have also been given greater discretion to correct errors in the EC form at any time during the EC Period.
Historically, there have been occasions where employers were not notified of the Early Conciliation process until the third or even fourth week of the EC period, meaning they had limited time to consider their position before the claim form (ET1) was lodged.
With the implementation of the new six-week period, parties now have more time to resolve the dispute pre-litigation and avoid a Tribunal claim altogether. This could potentially save time as well as reducing costs and the stress of litigation.
The change is largely to be welcomed on the basis that it simplifies the time scales for the Early Conciliation period and allows for a more consistent approach.
Hopefully, this allowance of extra time will encourage parties to engage in early settlement and therefore ease the burden on the Employment Tribunals. This is needed now more than ever with Tribunals across the country suffering significantly with a backlog of claims as a result of the impact of Covid-19.