Acas denies employment changes will put pressure on employers

Early conciliation could cost business in time in money, according to an employment lawyer. But Acas argues research shows early conciliation provides far better outcomes for employers and employees.

Changes around early conciliation, the abolition of discriminatory questionnaires and the introduction of financial penalties for employers in tribunal cases came into effect on 6 April. 

Lisa Mayhew, partner and head of the employment team at Berwin Leighton Paisner, argues they may have the opposite effect to what the Government intended and lead to companies spending more time administering the changes. 

"The Government is heaping yet more change and uncertainty on employers," she said.

Mayhew said that employers were worried about the changes as 90% reported at a recent seminar that they didn't think Government changes introduced this time last year had met their aims.

Mayhew said early conciliation, specifically designed to lessen the burden of claims on employers, would potentially lead to further disputes over the time limits around legislation.

Gill McCarthy, director of operational policy and performance at Acas, said early conciliation would reduce the burden on employers prepared to use it. 

She told HR magazine: "We know from our experience in pre-claim conciliation that employers have found it cheaper, easier, more convenient, less stressful, and resolved their issue more quickly than following submission of an employment tribunal claim.

"Independent research has found that when staff, management time and legal costs are factored in employers save on average £3,200 compared to resolving a dispute once an employment tribunal claim has been made."

When Acas is consulted about early conciliation, the time limit for employees to make claims does not take effect again until the certificate is issued confirming early conciliation has failed. 

Mayhew said this could lead to "satellite litigation", with lengthy secondary disputes over the details of how long employees have remaining to make claims. 

McCarthy said Acas issue a certificate on conclusion of early conciliation to let claimants know when it ended.

She added: "If a claim is lodged, the tribunal can use this to determine whether or not a claim is lodged in time as this is a matter for the tribunal and not Acas.

"If both parties want to continue discussions with a conciliator, this is still possible before a tribunal claim is lodged and (as now) if the claim is made."