Recent New Laws See A Decrease In Employment Tribunals

New rules aimed at reducing the number of Employment Tribunals have come into force. From the 6th of May, Employer’s should now be prepared for the new ACAS ‘early conciliation scheme’ if an employee intends to bring an Employment Tribunal claim against them.  ACAS, which stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, was set up to improve employment relations and prevent tribunals, it also provides training and free advice to both parties at hand. Employee’s now wanting to bring a case of unfair dismissal or discrimination now have to first notify the conciliation service to see if the dispute can be resolved by alternative methods. This will, in some circumstances, extend the time within which employees can then bring a claim.

Under the new conciliation regime, An ACAS conciliation officer will then endeavour to promote a settlement’ for a month – although this period can be extended for up to two weeks. The process is free and impartial, and all discussions are ‘without prejudice’.  If at any time within the early conciliation period the conciliation officer decides a settlement cannot be reached (including because reasonable attempts to contact the other party have failed), he or she issues a conciliation certificate.

The limitation period does not run during the conciliation period, so if the time limit for lodging a claim would expire during the conciliation period, that time limit is extended for a further month. This means the usual three-month time limit for bringing a claim could be extended by, in some cases, up to two and a half months.

It has been described as a welcomed incentive by Government Ministers and has led to an 81% fall in the number of applications but was strongly criticised by Trade Unions who argued that workers are being priced out of justice. Under the new rules, which came into force on the 6th May, staff or employers will be required to consult Acas before having access to a full tribunal.

Another change in the law now also sees employers facing fines of up to £5,000 on top of any back pay that is due to the employee if they lose a case at tribunal. Ministers have said the changes would help avoid “stress, time delays and excessive costs” and that the threat of fines would create a new welcomed incentive for bosses to respect the rights of their staff rather than risk increased financial penalties. Previous government measures include the introduction last year of fees for workers looking to take their employers to tribunal and start at around £160 to issue a claim, rising to £250 a claim, depending on the type, and a further hearing fee ranging from £230 to £950.

The Confederation of British Industry said more work was needed to change the culture of the system of solving disputes. Employment relations minister Jenny Willott said the Early Conciliation scheme was “good news for employees and employers”. She said: “It will help them resolve their workplace disputes, avoiding the stress, time delays and excessive costs all too often associated with tribunals.” But will employee’s receive the justice they believe they are entitled too? If you need legal help and advice on any employment matter please call us on 01536 276300.