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Early conciliation could cause rise in 'vexatious claims', says employment lawyer

The Acas early conciliation process could lead to a rise in "vexatious and frivolous claims" against employers, according to a leading employment legal advisor.

The early conciliation is one of a raft of changes in employment law that come into effect on Monday 6 April.

Sarah Dillon, head of HR magazine's HR Legal Service, said the Acas process will be the change that could cause employers the biggest headache.

"With the introduction of tribunal fees last year, employers saw claims fall dramatically," she said. "Now with this process, employees may be tempted to see if they can get money out of their employers without having to spend anything. Vexatious and frivolous claims could rise significantly"

Under the changes, employees will have to contact Acas and go through an early conciliation process before they can bring a tribunal claim. If the employer does not respond or if the conciliation is unsuccessful, they then receive a certificate from Acas that allows them to bring the tribunal claim.

The process will be optional from 6 April but mandatory from 6 May. 

Another big change around the tribunal laws is that employers can now be fined up for £5,000 if they lose a tribunal case and there are found to be "aggravating factors" in their behaviour.

Emma Hamnett, senior associate at national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, said: "Aggravating features are not defined and ultimately this will be for the Employment Tribunal to decide, taking into account any factors which it considers relevant, including the circumstances of the case and the employer’s own particular circumstances."

Changes to be aware of

The main employment legislation changes coming in this month are: 

• Changes to employers' ability to partially recover statutory sick pay from HMRC.

• A new Acas early conciliatory scheme so that claimants cannot lodge claims without approaching Acas first.

• Financial penalties for employers who lose cases at tribunal. 

• Fees for certain types of employment tribunal claims will increase.

• Discrimination questionnaires will be abolished.

• Maximum compensation limits for unfair dismissal awards will increase.

For more information on this and other leagal issues, visit the HR Legal Service website here: http://bit.ly/1effe9o