ACAS Early Conciliation is a mandatory process which intends to help resolve workplace disputes without the need to go to an Employment Tribunal. The Early Conciliation process has been a pre-requisite to bringing a Tribunal claim since May 2014 and it can help parties to a dispute avoid stress and to save on time and legal costs.
To begin the process of Early Conciliation, a Claimant must contact ACAS by completing an Early Conciliation form online. It’s extremely important that this is done within the relevant time frame or the Claimant may be out of time to pursue their legal claims. Generally, a Claimant has three months minus one day from the date of the act which they are complaining about to file a claim in the Employment Tribunal and they must fill out an Early Conciliation form within this time frame. Going through Early Conciliation will extend the limitation date to bring a claim in the tribunal in most cases.
Since its introduction in 2014, ACAS Early Conciliation has been the subject of a number of disputes, most recently in the case of Pearce v Merrill Lynch. In this case the Employment Appeal Tribunal had to consider whether if a Claimant goes to ACAS for Early Conciliation after a primary time limit has expired, is there then a month’s grace to present a claim form after the end of Early Conciliation. After considering the position, the Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that was a not a grace period and found against the Claimant.
In this case, the Claimant brought claims for detriments arising from protected disclosures outside of the 3-month time limit. He had been off work due to ill-health for over 4 months, eventually taking legal advice on 5th December which rendered him out of time to start the relevant processes. The Claimant’s solicitors then took 16 days before starting early conciliation with ACAS, which ended on 8th January and with the ensuing claim being presented on 7th February. The Tribunal held that although it had not been reasonably practicable for the Claimant to have put the claim in on time, crucially it was not then presented within a reasonable time after the 3-month time limit had expired. As such, the claim was ultimately dismissed for being out of time. The Claimant appealed the judgment, but the appeal failed too. The Employment Appeal Tribunal aligned with the Tribunal’s view and considered that there was no reason why the claim could not have been presented sooner.
This case highlights the fact that the Tribunals will take a strict view in terms of timescales and the presentation of claims. If faced with a Tribunal claim then, it is always vitally important to scrutinise the timing of the claim which is being made against you because if there is a question over this, then there is potentially scope for the claim to be struck out at the preliminary stages.