Service aims to get parties talking in workplace disputes

A new service is now available to help workers resolve workplace disputes without going to an employment tribunal.

Acas launched its new Early Conciliation Service from 6 April 2014, which is free for employees considering making an employment tribunal claim about a workplace problem – such as a claim of unfair dismissal, issues around equal pay or rights to flexible working. From 6 May 2014, employees wishing to bring an employment tribunal claim will be required to use the Early Conciliation Service before they are permitted to submit a claim form to the tribunal.

Initially, potential claimants must complete a form on the Acas website and a conciliator will then make contact with both parties with the aim of trying to resolve the dispute quickly without the need for tribunal proceedings to be commenced.

Acas chief executive Anne Sharp said the earlier that people involved in a dispute started talking, the more chance there would be of success. She added: “This may mean that the claim does not progress to tribunal, which could save both parties time and money. All conversations are conducted on a without prejudice basis, so nothing said during this process can be used later on in a tribunal.”

Meanwhile, employers who lose a case at an employment tribunal could find themselves facing extra financial penalties, on top of any compensation they have to pay to a former employee.

Also from 6 April, employment tribunals now have the power to impose a penalty of between £100 and £5,000 when an employer loses a case and where the tribunal considers the way the employer breached the worker’s rights has one or more “aggravating features”.

The penalties – which will be paid to the government – will only apply when a claim has been made on or after 6 April 2014.

The aggravating features are not clearly set out in the legislation, leaving it open to tribunals to consider the facts of each case. However, a policy paper on the legislation published in January 2013 said that aggravating features would include “malice or negligence” but not “inadvertent errors”.

It said the penalties were “designed to encourage business to have greater regard to what is required of them in law and, ultimately, lead to fewer workplace disputes and employment tribunal claims”.

Lara Murray, associate solicitor in Palmers’ Employment Law team, said: “From a time and cost point of view, it certainly makes sense to try to negotiate an outcome satisfactory to all parties, to avoid the problem escalating to the level of an employment tribunal.”

“Our employment law team can provide expert advice on all aspects of employment law, including assisting in employment disputes before or after an employment tribunal claim has been submitted. For more information, please contact our Employment Law team.”