The Acas early conciliation scheme was first introduced in April 2014. The purpose of the scheme was to provide a process whereby the parties to an employment dispute would have the opportunity to settle their differences with the assistance of Acas, without having to become embroiled in full blown employment tribunal proceedings.
Under the scheme, it is a mandatory requirement for the prospective claimant (the employee) to initiate early conciliation by completing an online form or contacting Acas by telephone. The information that must be provided at this stage is limited to the names and addresses of the prospective claimant and the prospective respondent (the employer).
Neither party has to engage in settlement discussions through the early conciliation process but if they do, they usually have one calendar month to reach a legally binding agreement. If agreement cannot be reached, Acas will issue an early conciliation certificate which contains a reference number which the prospective claimant can then use to start an employment tribunal claim.
A recent decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Giny v SNA Transport Ltd demonstrates the vital importance of the prospective claimant getting the prospective respondent’s details correct when they contact Acas as part of the early conciliation process.
Mr Giny brought a number of claims against his former employer including constructive dismissal. At the early conciliation stage Mr Giny gave the name of the sole company director as the prospective respondent rather than the name of the company. The sole company director was therefore named on the early conciliation certificate when settlement could not be reached. Mr Giny subsequently instructed solicitors who correctly entered the company name as the respondent on the claim form to the employment tribunal.
When Mr Giny’s claim was presented to the employment tribunal it was rejected because the incorrect name for the prospective respondent was entered on the early conciliation certificate. While the employment tribunal could have accepted the claim if it considered this to be a minor error, it took the view that confusing the director with the company was not a minor error. On appeal, the EAT agreed with this conclusion.
The EAT did have sympathy for Mr Giny’s position but it felt that the law was clear and it could not interfere with the decision of the employment tribunal.
The EAT did however stress that each case will turn on its own particular facts, however, the clear message to employees bringing claims and employers defending claims is to check that the details given to Acas at the early conciliation stage are correct.