In March the Government published statistics which showed that there had been a 79% drop in employment tribunal claims following the introduction of fees for issuing an ET claim.

It does not seem credible that there are 79% fewer unhappy employees out there. The number will not have changed much, if at all. What we have is a financial dam and all dams do is allow volumes of water to build up. Eventually water finds another route. 

That other route in the world of employment disputes is likely to be the new ACAS early conciliation scheme which will be compulsory from 6 May. Any person who wants to bring an ET claim must first explore the possibility of settling their dispute via the EC scheme. Employees are likely to seize this opportunity to get redress without paying a fee. Why wouldn’t they? 

If this does happen then employers can expect contact from ACAS at a much earlier stage than before and they need to be prepared for that. One response is simply to refuse to engage in the conciliation. The employee is then left with a choice of abandoning their claim or paying a fee. The alternative is to engage meaningfully in the process. If that is the chosen route then how does the employer do that to maximise the chances of a reasonable outcome? 

In many ways it will be like dealing with an ET claim. The employer will need to assess the potential liability, value it and consider what it is prepared to pay to buy that out. That is not the whole picture though. Discussing the problem early has significant advantages. The parties will, probably, not yet have become too entrenched in their positions; it may be possible to find solutions that have a non-monetary cost. 

It may require a new way of thinking to resolve cases at this stage but there is the possibility that the EC scheme could work for both sides. Alternative dispute resolution – of which conciliation is one form – has proved to be an effective way of resolving disputes. It is worth giving it a try.