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Strict time-limits for employment claims

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Employees have 3 months less 1 day from the date of dismissal to pursue an employment claim. However, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Early Conciliation process effectively ‘pauses’ the time-limit for up to 1 month plus 14 days. Early Conciliation is now mandatory and ACAS must be contacted before a claim can be made. Nearly one year since the process was introduced we take a look at how it is affecting employment litigation.

The most up to date information from ACAS suggests that in the first 9 months of Early Conciliation being rolled out, they had 58,954 referrals (all but 1,901 being made by employees). Only 23.2% of these cases progressed to Tribunal Claims. Settlement was achieved in 16.3% of cases and the remainder were discontinued at this stage. It is also worth mentioning that conciliation remains available up to the day of the Tribunal Hearing, and out of the 8,810 cases progressing to Tribunal, 2,530 were settled by ACAS conciliators beforehand.

We will have to wait for the ACAS Annual Report to see the final statistics for this period, but given the trends we have seen already, it would seem that Early Conciliation is certainly gaining momentum in settling claims without determination by the Tribunal. This is at a time when high Tribunal fees are being blamed for the sharp decline in the amount of employment cases being brought. As such it is encouraging to see that employees and employers alike are engaging in this process.

Nevertheless, around 10% of employees/employers flatly refused to engage with Early Conciliation at all, leaving the claimant with no alternative but to press on to the Tribunal or give up. Given that 60.5% of cases are dropped following discussions with ACAS, should we be worried that people with genuine claims are being put off pursuing them?

There are also some cases where Early Conciliation is not required and an exemption can be sought; not everyone is aware of this narrow exception.

Employees and employers involved in disputes should always seek legal advice rather than relying solely on the prospect of ACAS being able to resolve the matter.

If you think that you might have a claim against your employer or you are facing a claim by an employee, it is important that you act quickly to avoid falling foul of the strict time-limits. Contact a member of our dedicated and experienced Employment Team for advice and support.