CIPD: “Acas’ Early Conciliation (EC) services dealt with more than 60,000 cases from 6 April until the end of December 2014, according to the third quarterly update from the employment advice service.
The growing figures suggest that the majority of employees would still prefer to settle disputes via the scheme rather than going through costly employment tribunals.
Since May 2014 employers and employees have had a duty to contact Acas if considering bringing an employment tribunal claim. Acas then offers to resolve the dispute. While voluntary, this is accepted in the majority of cases.
The statistics show that only 8.7 per cent of employees rejected the offer in the first nine months of the scheme, compared to 11.3 per cent of employers.
The number of notifications Acas received increased from approximately 1,000 per week during April, the month before notification became mandatory, to 1,600 per week in May and August. This increased to around 1,800 per week between October and December 2014.
Acas has attributed the jump to recent employment tribunal decisions relating to holiday pay calculation, which has paved the way for further cases. It received around 2,300 notifications covering more than 11,000 individuals relating to holiday pay cases between mid-August and the end of December 2014.
Richard Fox, head of employment law at Kingsley Napley LLP, said more employers and HR professionals should be using Early Conciliation strategically: “I don’t think enough thought yet has gone into how you make use of the system when managing employment disputes in the workplace,” he said.
“You spend a lot of time with clients talking about ‘disclosure’ – how you force the other side to divulge documents which are relevant to the case. Here is a chance to ask whatever you like through the Acas officer and it seems there are no rules which prevent you doing that. You can ask all sorts of questions, including crucial ones like is the employee trying to get another job, what jobs are they applying for, what are their chances of getting another job.”
The Acas statistics also show the outcome of cases which have had time to reach a final outcome. Of the cases notified between April 2014 and January 2015, 16 per cent of the cases reached a COT3 Settlement – a formalised legal agreement through Acas signed by both parties – while 60.5 per cent were not settled in this way but did not progress to a tribunal claim.
A further 23 per cent of cases did progress to a tribunal.
“Early Conciliation has been a success despite a lot of cynicism around its introduction,” Fox added.
“One of the issues is whether all those who are taking Early Conciliation are actually thinking of bringing a claim. There may be a small amount of abuse of that system in the sense that people who don’t want to pay for a lawyer may feel the Acas officer for no charge will act as their representative in trying to secure a deal.”
Anne Sharp, Acas chief executive, said: “Early Conciliation has continued to maintain its strong start and has given us the chance to help more people resolve their disputes early. Our conciliation experts dealt with a record number of notifications over this period, we believe this increase is due to the impact of holiday pay overtime claims.”