Early conciliation is helping to resolve employment disputes

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The conciliation service offered by Acas seems to be taking the heat out of many workplace disputes, with 71 per cent of claimants recently surveyed saying it had helped them avoid going to a tribunal.

But an evaluation of the service by public affairs research agency TNS BMRB also suggests that some employers are not making best use of conciliation. The most frequently mentioned reason for failing to reach a settlement was the employer’s unwillingness to negotiate, reported by 76 per cent of claimants.  By contrast, just 10 per cent reported the level of the employer’s offer as the sticking point. A surprising 31 per cent of employers reported their own unwillingness to negotiate as the reason for being unable to reach a settlement.

Given the large number of disputes being referred to Acas – 92,000 between April 2015 and March 2016 alone – and the fact that early conciliation (EC) is now mandatory, it is important that employers fully understand the service on offer and how to get the most out of it.

EC service

The EC service is designed to assist the parties to an employment dispute in reaching an agreed settlement, without leaving the issue to be decided by an employment tribunal. The service was introduced in April 2014, and it is now mandatory for parties to an employment dispute to attempt to resolve most claims before they can be brought to an employment tribunal. Exceptions include unfair dismissal claims that are accompanied by an application for interim relief – in other words, to continue the employment contract pending a final hearing of the claim.

In addition to EC, Acas also offers a post-proceedings conciliation service. Like EC, this involves a conciliation officer communicating with the parties to see if an agreed solution can be found. This scheme is available right up to the point of a judgement being made, and is widely used, despite not being mandatory.

Mindset

Conciliation relies on cooperation and a willingness to engage in meaningful settlement discussions. While it is mandatory for the parties to attempt EC, either party can – and often will – advise the conciliation officer that they do not wish to participate in EC. Employers who want to maximise the chances of settlement therefore need to be prepared to go into the process with an open mind.

Timing

The evaluation of the Acas conciliation service also highlights the importance of attempting to resolve disputes as early as possible. The results show that employers involved in cases where EC took place before a claim was issued were both more satisfied with the conciliation service and more likely to go on and participate in post-proceedings conciliation. The overwhelming majority (96 per cent) of employers who had been involved in cases where EC took place prior to a claim reported that they would use Acas conciliation again, compared to 86 per cent of those who had not already taken part in EC. Similarly, 75 per cent of employers who participated in EC went on to take part in post-proceedings conciliation. Where employers had not taken part in EC, this figure dropped to just 41 per cent.

Communication

The evaluation identifies communication as another influential factor in the conciliation process. Employers – and their representatives – who reported initiating most of the contact with Acas were more likely than others to reach a settlement. The research also found that email plays a role in facilitating settlement. Employers who reported email contact were found to be more likely to reach a settlement than those who chose not to communicate with Acas by this method.

These findings suggest that employers need to reflect on how their approach to communication, as well as their willingness to negotiate, is likely to affect their chances of reaching settlement.

 

Story via – http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/06/14/early-conciliation-is-helping-to-resolve-employment-disputes.aspx

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