6th May 2014 is an important date for anybody thinking about bringing a claim against his employer in the Employment Tribunal. As from that date, then before being able to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim, the potential claimant has (with some very limited exceptions) to send ACAS basic information by completing a simple form. It is compulsory to complete this and submit it to ACAS (either online or by post or by telephoning ACAS and giving them the basic information). There is no need at this stage to provide any details about the potential claim. An early conciliation support officer from ACAS will then contact the potential claimant, ask for more details of the complaints and pass the information to an ACAS conciliator. If the potential claimant wants to proceed with conciliation, the conciliator will contact the employer to see if it also would like to discuss settlement. If either the potential claimant or the employer refuses to enter into conciliation, ACAS will issue an early conciliation certificate. Neither party is obliged to proceed with conciliation.
If the parties wish to explore a settlement then the conciliator has one month in which to bring about such a settlement. This one month conciliation period can be extended by a further 2 weeks if there is a prospect of a settlement being achieved. Whilst in the course of exploring a settlement ACAS can be expected to explain to each party the other side’s views on the case, ACAS’s role is not to act as a representative or take sides – it cannot make any judgment about the merits of the prospective claim or the likely outcome if the claim went to an Employment Tribunal hearing. If settlement is reached, ACAS will draw up a form COT3 setting out the terms of the settlement which the parties will sign.
If the conciliator fails to get the parties to reach a settlement, which might be because either they could not reach agreement or one of them opted out of the process, the conciliator must issue an early conciliation certificate which will have a unique number and which will allow the potential claimant to proceed with the claim in the Tribunal. Without having this unique number, the potential claimant will be unable to issue his claim in the Employment Tribunal.
When the potential claimant contacts ACAS with the basic details, this will stop the clock from running as regards the time limit by which the claim has to be lodged in the Employment Tribunal. The clock stops running on the day after the potential claimant has contacted ACAS and starts to run again the day after the potential claimant has received the early conciliation certificate (or is deemed to have received this). In any event the potential claimant will have at least one month from when he received the early conciliation certificate in which to lodge his claim at the Employment Tribunal and become an actual claimant.
The difficulty for potential claimants is that they will not necessarily know how strong their case is and thus what it is worth.