Change ahead for all employment law claims in 2020

02 January 2020

As we usher in a new year, and in this case a new decade, many of us will be contemplating new years’ resolutions, typically to improve our health and well-being and represent a new fresh start. 

Whilst cynics might say that these resolutions are unlikely to last past January, there is one major change afoot that all employees and employers in Northern Ireland need to be aware of, which is set to be permanent. 

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) is set to introduce early conciliation, on 27th January 2020.

What is early conciliation?

Early conciliation is a free service provided by the LRA to resolve employment disputes, without the need to instigate Industrial Tribunal proceedings. It can be used to resolve both individual and collective disputes. It is usually done by talking over the phone to both parties and can take up to 1 month. Conciliation is confidential and the details are not discussed with the Industrial Tribunal. Whilst conciliation has been offered by the LRA for many years, as of 27th January it is now becoming compulsory.

How does it change employment law processes?

Currently, claims to the Industrial Tribunal must be lodged within 3 months from the act complained of. However, pre-claim conciliation, once applied for will effectively pause the time limit and allow an employee further time to submit their claim. For an employer, it represents an opportunity to reflect on their position and potentially resolve a dispute without the need to go to an Industrial Tribunal, which can become costly and time consuming for any business. Early conciliation also offers a more flexible and diverse range of outcomes for employees which are not always achievable at a tribunal, for example, a reference.

Put most simply, early conciliation means that details of a claim must be notified to the LRA prior to instigation of the legal proceedings. Both parties must consent to the continuance of the process thereafter, so there is no obligation to engage in discussions.

The process has been in place in England since 2014, with ACAS (the English equivalent to our Labour Relations Agency) statistics showing that in the first 12 months of being introduced, it allowed 48% of cases to avoid going to Tribunal. 

Time will tell how early conciliation plays out here in Northern Ireland. Legal advice should be sought by employees and employers alike before embarking or engaging in the process. 

For any employment law query, contact Laura Banks on 028 9024 3901