Mediation service for workplace disputes on the rise

March 26, 2010

Businesses and employees embroiled in conflict are tapping into a free conciliation service to avoid expensive employment tribunal claims at a rate that has doubled since September 2009, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service reports.

Acas, governed by an independent council funded by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, fields about 87,000 tribunal cases a year to sort out disputes between employers and employees.

Complainants can call a telephone helpline as the first step, either before or after dismissal, rather than embarking on a costly and time-consuming formal legal tribunal procedure.

“The idea is to try and take out the heat and complications you have in employment relations and to stop you spending an awful lot of money and time by going to a tribunal,” Acas Chair Ed Sweeney told Reuters.

Pre-claim conciliation resolutions may include awarding a sum of money, an apology and a work reference, while the tribunal process offers reinstatement in the workplace or financial compensation without a reference, regardless of the outcome of the ruling.

The tribunal, which considers the reason for dismissal and whether proper workplace procedures are followed, can also require one side to pay the costs of the other.

At the end of February 2010, 10 months after Acas first launched the process, more than 8,000 pre-claim conciliation referrals were made, and 5,000 tribunal cases avoided, according to Acas.  The helpline receives more than a million calls a year.

About 300 referrals are made each week, and Acas expects the number to rise to about 400 a week. Acas has resources to settle 20,000 cases in 2011 through the pre-conciliation process.

More than half of all resolved cases are completed in about three weeks instead of the six to nine months that most tribunal claims take, Sweeney said in a statement.

Most people using the service are small business employers or employees without a human resource department or trade union representation. A representative from Acas will meet with both parties and try and resolve the dispute.

A claim must be brought forward within three months of dismissal.

Watch a video clip below of Ed Sweeney talking to Reuters about the pre-conciliation process, or if you can’t see it, please click on the headline of this post to view it.

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