Changes to the Acas Early Conciliation Rules of Procedure came into effect as of 1 December 2020, after amendments were made to the Employment Tribunals (Early Conciliation: Exemptions and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2014 (SI 2014/254) in September 2020.
What is the Early Conciliation procedure?
Acas Early Conciliation (EC) is a time period for which parties can mediate and attempt to reach a settlement, without the need for a claim to proceed to the Employment Tribunal. Notification to Acas is a mandatory requirement, with an Acas EC Certificate being required in order to submit a claim at the Employment Tribunal. However, engagement in the conciliation process itself is not compulsory. Prior to 1 December 2020, the period for which EC could take place was one month, which could be extended by a further two weeks, with agreement. This has now changed following the amendments brought about by the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) (Early Conciliation: Exemptions and Rules of Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1003).
What are the key changes?
The main change is essentially that from 1 December 2020, the EC period will be a standard six weeks in total, with no option for either party to extend this any further. However, as noted above, engagement in the process itself is not mandatory, therefore the period can be ended sooner than the six weeks, if both parties do not wish to engage any further or engage at all. The changes also allow for Acas conciliators to correct errors in the EC form at any time during the EC period.
What are the practical implications?
The primary objective of the amendments is to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy for the Tribunal. It is also hoped that extending the default time period will result in greater resolution of claims prior to submission to the Tribunal, as a result of the longer time period for which settlement can be considered and discussed by both parties. However, the extension of the time period is unlikely to have significant implications in practice, but parties should ensure they are aware that the default period is now six weeks. With regard to time limits, there have been no changes made to the limitation period provisions under the Employment Rights Act 1996, however because the Acas EC period serves to "stop the clock", it is likely that we will see more claims with a six week period between what is referred to as "Day A" and "Day B". "Day A", being the day on which the prospective claimant contacts Acas by telephone, or upon receipt of their EC form, and "Day B" being the day on which the prospective claimant receives the EC certificate.
If you need any assistance with the issues discussed, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the UK employment team.