According to the most recent Employment Tribunal statistics, there are currently around 45,000 claims awaiting determination in the Employment Tribunal. With the furlough scheme currently due to end on 31st March 2021, this number is only likely to increase. With this in mind, the focus of both Claimants and Respondents is likely to shift toward early conciliation where the parties have the opportunity to resolve matters at an early stage.
What is Early Conciliation?
Early Conciliation (“EC”) was introduced on 6th May 2014 and it requires Claimants in the majority of cases to contact ACAS and engage in EC before they can issue proceedings in the Employment Tribunal. Briefly, this involves the Claimant notifying ACAS of the dispute, either via an online form or over the telephone. ACAS will then contact the Respondent and explore conciliation. If it is not possible to resolve the dispute, ACAS will then issue an EC certificate and the Claimant will need to quote the certificate reference number on any claim form.
The EC period will last one calendar month but it can be extended once by up to 14 days if the parties and ACAS agree. If there are any errors on the EC form ACAS must either reject the form or continue with it which could present problems at the Employment Tribunal if the details on the EC certificate do not match those on the claim form.
What is changing?
With effect from 1st December 2020 the EC period has been extended from 4 weeks to 6 weeks giving the parties more time to try and resolve their workplace dispute. In addition to this, ACAS will also now be able to correct any errors on the EC form at any time during the conciliation process.
The changes to the rules are to be welcomed. The increase in the EC period reflects what tends to happen in most EC cases and will give the parties more time to explore settlement. This should help with the expected increase in claims next year. We are also likely to see a reduction in claims being rejected by the Employment Tribunal as a result of errors on the EC form.