This unfortunate case is a reminder how harsh Employment Tribunals can be in respect of compliance with the early conciliation procedure, which is compulsory.
In this case, Mrs Sterling had lodged her complaint against the United Learning Trust in plenty of time. However, the Tribunal did not accept it because, they said, it contained the wrong early conciliation number. Under the new early conciliation rules, claims cannot proceed unless this number is included.
Mrs Sterling had named her legal representative solicitors in the form, but the Tribunal did not write to them to say that the form had been rejected. Instead they wrote to her, and in addressing the letter to her they omitted her house number. The letter therefore arrived at her friend’s house down the road, and was only delivered to Mrs Sterling on the last day for submitting the complaint, or the day before it. In fact this fell on a weekend, and she submitted the claim on the Monday, which was only 2 days out of time.
She admitted to the Tribunal that she had missed a couple of digits off the early conciliation number. However, at the appeal stage she said that her recollection was actually that she had got the number correct.
The Appeal Tribunal was quite clear that the Employment Tribunal had perfectly legitimately concluded that the number was incomplete and that they were therefore obliged to reject it.
Unfortunately in this case there was no application for “reconsideration” and no arguments were made by Mrs Sterling’s representative that it should be extended because it was not “reasonably practicable” for her to submit the claim in time. Her subsequent appeal was therefore doomed to failure.
The most important lesson to be learned is that the conciliation documents should be checked, rechecked, and checked again for accuracy. One of the main issues we are seeing at Springhouse is that the respondent is named incorrectly.
What makes this case particularly sad is that Mrs Sterling may well have included the correct number and this was all a mistake by the Employment Tribunal. However, without the correct application for reconsideration and/or extension of time on the “reasonably practicable” basis she was prevented from progressing her claim.
Presumably the claim is now, potentially against her solicitor.