ACAS early conciliation certificate can relate to a claim where the claimant resigned after the certificate was issued

Many employers will by now be familiar with the ACAS Early Conciliation (EC) process which was initially introduced in April 2014.  The concept of Early Conciliation is that ACAS will attempt to resolve any potential claim before it is formally submitted to an Employment Tribunal – indeed it is now the case that claims must have completed the process and an EC certificate issued before a claim can be lodged.

There are some exceptions to this rule – for example in cases of a claim being made against the Security Services, or another joint Claimant already having an Early Conciliation certificate in respect of the matter, however generally the Tribunals have been quite strict in imposing the rule.  It therefore may come as a surprise to learn that in the recent case of Compass Group UK and Ireland Ltd v Morgan, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the Claimant’s constructive dismissal claim was covered by an EC certificate that had been issued before the Claimant had resigned.

The background to the case is that in October 2014 the Claimant submitted a grievance to her employer when she was instructed to work in an alternative location in a more junior capacity to her existing role. In November 2014 she commenced the EC process and on 3 January 2015, the EC certificate was issued after no action was taken to resolve her grievance. The Claimant subsequently resigned and brought two Employment Tribunal claims – constructive dismissal and disability discrimination.

The Respondent initially argued that the Claimant’s constructive dismissal claim was not properly instituted as she had not followed the EC process given that she resigned after the EC certificate had been issued. They further submitted that any cause of action occurring after ACAS had been notified, even in circumstances where it relates to facts occurring during the EC process, could not be capable of being pursued without ACAS being notified. At first instance the Employment Tribunal found in favour of the Claimant and held that there was a connection between the matters in dispute during EC and the matters in dispute in the claim itself.

The Respondent subsequently appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), this time stating that the cut-off date after which the EC Certificate does not extend is the issue of the EC Certificate (not the date of notification to ACAS as was the argument to the Employment Tribunal).

ACAS early conciliation

As you will probably be aware early conciliation is the requirement, introduced by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (ERRA) that all prospective claimants must contact ACAS before they can present claim to the Employment Tribunal. Prospective claimants are provided with an EC certificate with a unique reference number at the conclusion of the Early Conciliation process which must be entered on the Employment Tribunal claim form when a claim is submitted.

This gives both employers and employees the opportunity to negotiate, narrow the issues or even settle claims without the need to incur extensive legal costs.

However, due to the strict time restraints imposed by the tribunal, it is vital that the details inputted onto the early conciliation certificate are correct. Early conciliation does stop the clock from running with regards to your time limitation to bring a claim in the tribunal although if a mistake is identified you cannot go back. Therefore if an error in the identification of the respondent is identified following the expiry of the primary limitation period there can be the real risk that the claim against the correct respondent would be out of time.

This has quite clearly in the past caused Claimants and their legal advisors a great deal of difficulty and whether the claim could proceed was and still is essentially a matter of judicial discretion.

However, in Mist v Community NHS Trust the Employment Appeal Tribunal provided helpful guidance on whether an error in the identification of a respondent in an early conciliation certificate could prevent the employment tribunal from accepting a claim.

The first respondent was named correctly in the Claimant’s ET1 although the claimant had failed to name the second Respondent in both the ET1 and the EC certificate. The second respondent was joined at a later date although this was challenged on the basis that they had been joined out of time.

At first instance the Employment Tribunal agreed and ruled that the claim against the second respondent had been brought out of time. The Claimant appealed, broadly on the basis that the Tribunal had given undue prominence to the limitation period at the expense of the Claimant’s right to a remedy and had failed properly to assess the balance of hardship. The second respondent cross-appealed, alleging that the Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the case against the second respondent in circumstances where the Claimant had not first obtained a relevant ACAS conciliation certificate.