The 1st December 2020 brought not only the start of advent and the Elf on the Shelf for some but for employment lawyers saw changes made to the time periods for early conciliation through ACAS.
ACAS early conciliation is mandatory before employees start many of the common employment law claims in the Employment Tribunal including unfair dismissal and discrimination claims. The process has been in place for some time now and has had some success at early resolution of complaints. Those wishing to bring a claim complete the online form and then ACAS early conciliation starts. This is the start date on the certificate when this is issued at the end. The standard period for ACAS early conciliation (ACAS EC) was 4 weeks. If progress had not been made then a certificate was automatically issued after four weeks unless that parties to conciliation agreed to extend the period by two weeks. There was no possibility of extending this further although the parties could still use ACAS after the period had expired. If parties requested it sooner or the employer declined to have the settlement discussion the certificate was issued and this has not changed.
However with effect from 1st December 2020 the start period of ACAS early conciliation has been extended from 4 weeks to 6 weeks with the possibility still of the parties having the two week extension. At a time when employment lawyers, ACAS and the Tribunal are frankly creaking at the seams with demand, the changes bring some welcome respite for all. As the certificate is used to calculate the limitation period for the claims this can add a couple of weeks onto the limitation period if the full 6 weeks is used. ACAS are also experiencing high demand for their services and the delays were this year meaning sometimes that the employer would not be asked to participate in that process until the middle or worse still the end of the period. The Tribunal system has seen an increase in number of claims and the backlog as a result of the pandemic so it will be interesting to see the impact the additional period has on the quarterly publicly available statistics in due course.