Early Conciliation was introduced in 2014 for any employment disputes that were heading towards an Employment Tribunal, and this includes unfair dismissal from work claims. This process, run by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service) was implemented to try to allow disputes between employers and employees to be resolved before they reach Employment Tribunal.
What Does the Early Conciliation Process Involve?
If you are bringing a claim for unfair dismissal against your employer, you will have to lodge an Early Conciliation form within 3 months less one day from the date of dismissal/date of termination of your employment. It is important to understand how this process works, the chances of success and what happens if Early Conciliation doesn't work so it is worth getting legal advice from an Employment Law Solicitor.
Step 1 - Getting Employment Law Advice
First and foremost, if you think you have been unfairly dismissed, you should discuss your circumstances with a specialist Unfair Dismissal Solicitor who can offer you the legal advice you need to decide if you are going to take your claim for unfair dismissal forward to the Employment Tribunal. It is helpful to get legal advice throughout the Early Conciliation process as your Solicitor can assist with negotiations to ensure you get the best deal and also advise you on the terms of the COT3 form as there may be clauses/terms your employer insists on which you may not be happy with.
Step 2 - Lodging the Early Conciliation Form
If your Solicitor has indicated that you have grounds to make an unfair dismissal claim, you will have to submit an Early Conciliation Notification Form. ACAS will contact you within approximately two working days to discuss the form with you. If you are not willing to enter into discussions with your employer, ACAS will provide you with a certificate you will need in order to lodge your claim with an Employment Tribunal. You should speak to your Unfair Dismissal Solicitor as soon as possible as there is a short time limit (three months less one day from the date of dismissal) in place to make a claim.
When you decide to proceed with Early Conciliation with your employer, ACAS will contact them to ask them to take part. They can decline and in these circumstances you would move onto an Employment Tribunal, following the issue of the Early Conciliation certificate from ACAS.
If you and your employer agree to Early Conciliation, the ACAS conciliator will discuss the issues around unfair dismissal with you both separately on the telephone to try to resolve some of the issues. You should not feel under pressure to settle at any point in these discussions and the ACAS conciliator is not legally qualified to advise you on whether your claim has good prospects of success at an Employment Tribunal therefore it is important to seek advice from an Unfair Dismissal Solicitor.
Step 3 - Outcome of Early Conciliation
Once you have been through the process, one of three outcomes will take place. The first is that a settlement will be agreed and a settlement form (COT3) will be completed. The second is that the case will not progress any further and the third is that it will go forward to an Employment Tribunal.
The first is self-explanatory - once an agreement is reached, a COT3 form is completed and the parties do what is agreed in the settlement. The second is not so clear cut – just because the case does not move forward does not mean that the case had no merit. An employer may decide that a settlement form is not required and will simply action the outcome of the conciliation process without the need for a formal arrangement. In addition, you may decide that after conciliation you no longer wish to pursue the matter any further. The third option is to continue to an Employment Tribunal.
Once you have been through Early Conciliation and you have the certificate number from ACAS, even if you amend the claim you are making in the Employment Tribunal to include an issue that was not explored in Early Conciliation, you will not need to follow that process again. This issue was recently tested in the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Science Warehouse v Mills, where this view was supported.
Whatever you decide, you should take legal advice from your Unfair Dismissal Solicitor who will provide you with the information you need in order to make that right decision for you