Early Conciliation Process: A Guide For Employees

emily gordon brown
Emily Gordon BrownLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 14th November 2023

If you want to make an employment tribunal claim after raising a formal grievance, the first step is to tell Acas. When you do, they’ll offer you early conciliation. 


But what is early conciliation? And what does it aim to achieve? 

In this guide, we’ll break down:

  • What early conciliation is

  • The role of conciliators

  • The role of Acas in conciliation 

  • Advantages and disadvantages of early conciliation

  • The early conciliation process

  • How long early conciliation take

  • What happens if early conciliation fails 

  • Who is exempt from early conciliations

  • How much early conciliation costs

What is early conciliation?

Early conciliation is when Acas talks to you and your employer about your workplace disagreement and tries to help you both settle the issue without going to an employment tribunal. Essentially, it’s a chance to work things out peacefully before things get legal.

What do conciliators do?

Conciliators are like the peacemakers in a conflict. They:

  • Stay neutral. They don't take sides or say who is right or wrong;

  • Make sure both sides understand how early conciliation works; 

  • Help both parties see things from the other’s point of view;

  • Guide conversations towards an agreement, so the matter doesn’t have to go to court;

  • Give support during the employment tribunal journey. 

Early conciliation and ACAS

When someone wants to file a claim against their employer, they first have to tell Acas who offer early conciliation. 

Acas acts as a middleman between employers and employees to find a solution they both agree on. Their role is to give both sides a chance to say what they want, and what they don’t want.

Acas also provides free, fair advice to both employers and employees about how things should work in the workplace according to employment law. They can help with training and fixing work problems.  

What are the advantages of early conciliation?

Early conciliation is a process that helps you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your claim. It has several more advantages, such as:

  • It can help you explore different options for resolving the issue; 

  • Settling the claim can help you avoid the time, expense, risk, and stress of an employment tribunal claim;

  • It also allows you to control the process, and the terms of any settlement can include those that a tribunal could not make;

  • If you are still employed , early conciliation could increase your chances of avoiding a permanent breakdown of the employment relationship; 

  • It may give you a more realistic view of the potential value of your claim and the legal hurdles you will have to clear;

  • It may also give you a warning of the claimant's levels of expectation in terms of settlement.

What are the disadvantages of early conciliation?

Early conciliation is a valuable tool, but there are also some potential disadvantages: 

  • As an employee, navigating employment law's complexities can be challenging. Employers often have legal expertise on their side, which can put you at a disadvantage. 

  • Early conciliation may not be effective if one or both parties aren't willing or open to finding a middle ground;

  • It may limit your options by pausing the time limit for making a tribunal claim; 

  • Early conciliation may not result in an immediate settlement.

The early conciliation process

Here is a simple overview of the early conciliation process:

  1. First, you apply for early conciliation using an online form on the Acas website. The form only requires your name and address; you don't have to provide details about your dispute.

  2. After submitting the form, you will receive an automated email confirming receipt of your application. Keep this email safe; it can be used as proof if you need to contact Acas later. Alternatively, you can call Acas directly to use something other than the online form.

  3. If you and your employer are willing to participate in early conciliation, your case will pass on to an Acas conciliator. 

  4. They will work with you to discuss the issues and find common ground. The goal is to reach an acceptable compromise for both parties without going to an employment tribunal.

  5. If you agree on an outcome, you will both sign a COT3 agreement detailing the terms of your settlement. 

  6. By signing this agreement, you will give up your right to pursue further claims in the employment tribunal.

How long does early conciliation take?

How long early conciliation takes can be different for each case. It depends on how tricky the problem is and if both sides are willing to find a middle ground. 

Usually, it can take between three to six months from when the issue happened to finish talks. This time gives everyone a chance to figure out what the problem is, get the info needed, have productive conversations, and try to find a solution. 

Reaching an agreement through early conciliation

An employer might offer a deal to settle the issue. This is called a settlement agreement, and covers how the issue will be resolved. If an employee judges a settlement agreement to be fair, they can say yes to this deal. 

In early conciliation, when an agreement is reached Acas will give both employers and employees a form called a COT3. This makes the agreement legally binding. 

Accepting a settlement agreement means an employee can’t take the matter to court later on. 

What happens if early conciliation fails

If employers and employees can’t come to an agreement through early conciliation, then Acas will issue a certificate with a number on it.

Should an employee or employer wish to proceed with an employment tribunal claim, they fill in form ET1 and include the certificate number given to them in early conciliation. 

Early conciliation exemptions

Some cases are exempt from early conciliation. Here are some examples:

  • If someone else has already done early conciliation for the same issue and the claimant wants to start their case on the same form as the previous claimant; 

  • If a case is mixed in with other types of cases; 

  • If a claimant or respondent didn’t respond to Acas;

  • If the case falls under a certain law

  • If a claimant is taking action against super secret agencies, like the Security Service, or the Secret Intelligence Service. 

What happens if an employer declines early conciliation? 

If an employer says no to early conciliation, it doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the road for getting justice. Acas will issue a certificate of early conciliation, which proves you asked for early conciliation, but the other side said no. 

If the claimant wants to keep going with the case, they can use this certificate to go ahead with an employment tribunal. 

Do you need a lawyer for early conciliation?

You don’t have to have a solicitor represent you in early conciliation. Nor do you have to have a lawyer to represent you at an employment tribunal.

Having said that, an experienced employment law solicitor can help you understand the strength of your case and give you solid advice on the next steps. They can also help out with the paperwork, making sure you don’t run into any unnecessary delays to get the matter sorted. 

How much does conciliation cost?

Early conciliation through Acas is free. Therefore it’s sometimes a good idea to try this method of solving workplace problems, to avoid going to court and the costs associated with it. 

Disputes with an employer are overwhelming and stressful. They can impact all areas of your life and leave you feeling helpless. But it’s important to remember that you do have rights and you can exercise them. 

At Lawhive, our employment solicitors have considerable experience supporting individuals with Acas early conciliation and employment tribunal representation. 

If you feel your employer has treated you unfairly and want to make a claim, they are on hand to provide fast, affordable online legal help on your employment matter. To get started, get a free case assessment from our legal assessment team to find out the strength of your case, how much it’s going to cost, how long it’s likely to take, and which of our expert solicitors can help you put the matter to bed. 

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