NI welcomes Early Conciliation
27 January 2020
Early Conciliation (EC) will come into effect from today, 27 January 2020. This will mean that anyone wishing to lodge a Tribunal claim must first notify the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) and discuss the option of Early Conciliation. The concept of conciliation is not new to Northern Ireland as the LRA currently offers this service to parties once tribunal proceedings have been lodged. However, this new scheme will allow prospective claimants and prospective respondents an opportunity to resolve their workplace dispute before formal tribunal proceedings can be lodged. In fact, prospective claimants will now be prevented from lodging proceedings unless they have at least considered this option.
Early Conciliation has been mandatory in England and Wales since April 2014 and results published by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) show that, in the period April to September 2018, 12% of notifications received were resolved by way of settlement and 23% proceeded to the Employment Tribunal.
How does it work?
- A prospective claimant will normally have to present a tribunal claim within 3 or 6 months of the alleged incident (depending on the type of claim). Under the new EC scheme, a prospective claimant must first complete an EC notification through the LRA. This notification will effectively “stop the clock” on the limitation period for up to one calendar month to allow conciliation to take place. The Conciliation Officer will have the power to extend this period for a further 14 days if they consider that there is a reasonable prospect that agreement could be reached between the parties.
- The Conciliation Officer will contact the prospective claimant within 5 working days of the notification and will ask for consent to contact the other party to see if they are willing to conciliate. If both parties agree, the Conciliation Officer will try to find a solution that both find acceptable and the settlement will be recorded in the usual way (a CO3 agreement).
- If the parties are unwilling to enter into conciliation, or cannot reach agreement, the Conciliation Officer will issue an EC certificate which will allow the matter to proceed to Tribunal
- There will be a transitional period following the introduction of the EC scheme whereby for the first month (i.e. up until 27 February) a prospective claimant will not be required to engage in EC before submitting a claim and their claim will not be rejected on the grounds of not having engaged in EC.
Employers should be aware of the new scheme and the impact of a decision not to participate in the conciliation process (namely, that the prospective claimant will be issued with an EC certificate allowing their claim(s) to proceed to the Tribunal). Whilst the new scheme will give prospective claimants more time to consider lodging proceedings, it will also allow employers additional time to seek to resolve workplace disputes before they proceed to Tribunal and before significant legal costs are incurred.
If you have any queries in relation to EC please speak to one of our team.