There are very strict time limits for making a claim to an Employment Tribunal.
In most cases, you will have three months less one day from the date of your dismissal or from the date an act of discrimination took place. However, this time frame may vary and can be dependent on a number of factors, such as whether you worked a notice period or whether there has been ongoing discrimination. For this reason, you should seek legal advice without delay.
In the majority of claims, such as unfair dismissal, breach of contract, unlawful deductions from wages, discrimination, TUPE and equal pay (to name a few), it is mandatory to engage in ACAS Early Conciliation before starting an Employment Tribunal claim. This process must be commenced within the time limits referred to above. Failure to engage in this process within the required time frame means you cannot bring your claim to the Employment Tribunal.
Once you engage in ACAS Early Conciliation, this will stop the clock from running and allow both parties to explore settlement.
ACAS Early Conciliation Explained
ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) is an independent body who will liaise with you and your employer to determine if an out of court settlement might be achievable prior to issuing you with a Certificate that allows you to lodge a claim with an Employment Tribunal. This could lead to compensation for the way you have been treated or a non-monetary settlement, such as a reference.
You will need to explain the basis of any claim(s) to an assigned ACAS Conciliator and what compensation you are seeking. ACAS will then contact your employer to obtain their response and see if there is any scope for settlement. It might be that your employer knows they have done wrong and wants to avoid a possible Tribunal claim or that they just want to settle on a commercial basis i.e. to avoid the potential legal costs and hassle of dealing with a claim. Whichever the case, your employer is unlikely to admit any wrongdoing and any agreement will be without admission of liability.
If a settlement can be achieved then a formal agreement referred to as a “COT3 Agreement” will be drawn up (most likely by your employer). It is strongly advisable to obtain legal advice in respect of any terms offered by your employer and it should be noted that ACAS advisers are not legal advisers.
In the event your employer refutes any allegations and does not wish to engage in any settlement discussions, ACAS will immediately issue you with a Certificate which then allows you to lodge your claim with the Employment Tribunal. At this point, time will start to run again. You cannot lodge your claim in the Employment Tribunal without this Certificate.
Once your Certificate is issued and provided you have entered into the ACAS Early Conciliation process within the correct time limits (as referenced above), you will always have a period of one month from the date of your Certificate to lodge your Employment Tribunal claim. In some cases, you may have longer but you should always seek legal advice to ensure the correct time limits are adhered to.
Time Limits for ACAS
ACAS have a period of one month (when the clock is effectively stopped) to assist with any settlement negotiations, should both parties be engaging in the process. If a settlement cannot be achieved within the time frame and both parties agree, this can be extended by a further 14 days to allow for further negotiations. Following this, a Certificate will be issued if settlement cannot be achieved. This does not mean that you cannot contact ACAS and explore settlement at a later stage, once proceedings have commenced. ACAS are available throughout the entire Employment Tribunal process following the initial Early Conciliation period. The Early Conciliation period, however, is mandatory and whilst settlement itself is not, parties are encouraged to explore this possibility in the first instance.