The Government has confirmed, as part of its multi-stage response to the "Resolving Workplace Disputes" consultation, that it will press ahead with introducing Early Conciliation, a process that would make it a requirement for most prospective claimants to lodge information about their claim with Acas before starting a tribunal claim.
The Department for Business Innovation & Skills has issued a consultation on regulations to implement the proposal, asking a number of questions about the detail of how the system will operate. No start date is suggested, but although Acas has previously said that it expects Early Conciliation to start in April 2014, it is possible, given the very short consultation period set (it closes on 15 February), that it could start this year.
The consultation includes the form to be completed by prospective claimants and this reveals that the details are limited to basics; the claimant will not have to set out the substance of their potential claims. It will be up to Acas to try to contact the claimant to obtain basic information and to outline the conciliation process. This should at least remove the scope for disputes about whether a subsequent claim reflects the dispute originally referred to Acas.
Views are sort on what "reasonable efforts" the Acas officer needs to make in trying to contact the claimant. If contact is not made, then since the actual conciliation process is entirely voluntary, the certificate that the claimant needs in order to continue will be issued. Likewise, if the prospective respondent does not wish to participate in conciliation then, again, the certificate will be issued immediately. If the parties do want to conciliate then there will be a one calendar month period (although this could be extended by a further two weeks with the parties' agreement). The conciliation period will "stop the clock" on the time limits for bringing claims.
Employers will also be able to request Early Conciliation if there is a matter that might give rise to proceedings if it is not settled. There is no stop the clock, or any set time periods, however.