What is ACAS
ACAS stands for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. It is a publicly funded independent organisation that aims to promote better employment relations. As well as offering advice and training on a multitude of issues, ACAS provides an alternative to employment tribunals and aims to be confidential, fast, cost efficient and informal. ACAS is entirely voluntary and all proceedings are free and confidential.
Services offered by ACAS
There are three main ways of solving a dispute with ACAS. They are:
The goal of conciliation is to help both sides reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
It will often involve:
Establishing the issues being disputed;
Giving both parties space so that they can calmly evaluate their position and the position of the other party;
Meeting both parties in private to discuss matters;
Getting both parties together to discuss matters; and
Rebuilding the relationship between the parties.
Any settlements made through ACAS will be legally binding.
Arbitration differs from conciliation in that both parties agree beforehand to allow a third party to decide the result of a dispute and make an award if necessary.
Unlike tribunals and the court system, ACAS avoids formal pleadings, witnesses and documentary processes. Instead it tries to be more informal and flexible. There are no strict rules pertaining to evidence and, instead of relying on legal precedent and legalistic procedures, ACAS aims to take into account fairness and good conduct. Its decisions are final and it is very difficult to challenge the awards.
If a dispute involves complex legal issues it can still be accepted for determination by ACAS, but parties will be advised where appropriate to settle their dispute by other means or apply to the employment tribunal.
ACAS’ role is to:
Appoint arbitrators to determine the result of a case;
Provide administrative help to participants; and
Examine awards for errors that are referred back to the arbitrator.
To submit a dispute or arbitration to ACAS, parties must agree to take part. This agreement has to be in writing and will outline what it is that is being negotiated. The parties involved in the dispute determine the terms of reference or they can be drawn up with the aid of an ACAS conciliator.
At least 14 days prior to a hearing, both parties must submit any documentation to be relied on at the hearing and a lost of the people who will appear at a hearing. Participants must also submit statements outlining their case at least seven days before the hearing. Hearings will be arranged by ACAS on a date and at a location that is convenient for all involved.
Hearings are conducted in an informal manner and the parties can choose who they wish to represent them. Sometimes they may ask a lawyer for representation. The outcome of the hearing will be an award, which will be issued within three weeks of the hearing.
An employee can withdraw their claim at any time, but employers against whom a claim has been made cannot withdraw from the scheme. Any withdrawals must be made in writing. A settlement can be reached at any point during proceedings and if one is made, the arbitrator should be informed in writing.
Arbitrators are selected for the ACAS panel because of their knowledge and experience of workplace discipline. Neither party can influence the choice of arbitrator. Upon selection, the arbitrator must confirm in writing that they do not know of any circumstances that could affect their impartiality (for example, if they know one of the parties in dispute). Until the conclusion of the arbitration, it is their duty to inform ACAS of any new circumstances that could affect their judgement.
Arbitrators’ duties include:
Determining the size of any awards;
Giving each party a chance to put their case forwards;
Allowing each party the chance to respond to the case of their opponent;
Adopting procedures that avoid delay and expense as far as possible;
Arbitrators decide whether employers’ actions are fair or not based on a common sense judgement of fairness and good conduct.
Mediation is similar to arbitration, but unlike in arbitrations, awards are not made in mediation. Instead mediators will try to make recommendations to the parties and will take a more active part in the proceedings, helping participants to find solutions. Whether the parties decide to take on the suggestions of a mediator is up to them.
A mediator’s role is to guide the other parties through the process, identify the issues at stake and come up with ideas that might improve the situation. How the process unfolds is down to the mediator, but they will usually:
Start by speaking to the parties involved separately to establish what is wrong;
Help the parties to think about what they want;
Encourage each party to see the matter from the other person’s perspective; and then
Make suggestions as to how the situation can be improved
During this stage, none of the information given to the mediator will be passed on to the other party so they can both speak openly.
Eventually the mediator will bring both parties together so that they can say exactly how the feel without being interrupted. The mediator will ask questions and encourage both parties to come up with realistic solutions to their problems. If at the end of mediation no formal agreement has been made, the parties can ask the mediator to issue formal recommendations.