This page is a guide for employees about ACAS (which stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), an organisation which aims to improve working life through better employment relations.
For many of us, work is central to our lives. At a basic level, it enables our lifestyles, allows us to pay the bills and provide for our families. Work can also provide emotional fulfilment, delivering us a sense of accomplishment when things are going well, but causing us stress when they aren’t.
Problems at work, whether they be related to dismissal, bullying, disciplinary proceedings, or another issue, can have far-reaching consequences in an individual’s life from loss of livelihood, to damage to their long-term career, to negative impacts on their mental health.
ACAS therefore promotes good relationships between employees and their employers and provides conciliation services to try and resolve workplace problems without needing to resort to Employment Tribunal proceedings.
As employment solicitors, we have substantial experience providing advice to employees who are considering using ACAS or are currently in the process of ACAS conciliation, as well as representing them throughout their employment dispute, including conducting Employment Tribunal proceedings on their behalf.
We’re highly knowledgeable about employment law and absolutely committed to protecting your rights as an employee. ACAS presents a great opportunity for employees and employers to discuss amicable settlements without becoming embroiled in lengthy disputes.
For further information about our ACAS advice and employment law services, get in touch with our approachable team of lawyers today by giving us a call at our offices in Orpington, Kent, or by completing our online enquiry form.
What is ACAS?
ACAS is a publicly funded organisation which seeks to promote good practice in day-to-day workplace matters and provides conciliation services to try and achieve cooperative resolution to disputes without resorting to Employment Tribunals.
ACAS provides advice on their website on a variety of employment related subjects. You can read online, download or order web pages, booklets, leaflets and handbooks covering a wide range of employment matters, including:
- National Minimum Wage
- Issues with pay
- Disciplinary proceedings and grievances
- Zero hour contracts
- Equality and discrimination
- Bullying and harassment
- Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE)
ACAS grievance procedure
If you are being disciplined or if you have a grievance at work, we recommend that you read the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. The ACAS Code sets out best practice guidelines for the handling of disciplinary and grievance issues in employment.
Employment Tribunals must take the ACAS Code into account when deciding most unfair dismissal cases. The Tribunal may decide to increase or reduce compensation by up to 25% for any unreasonable failure by an employer or employee to follow the ACAS Code.
The ACAS definition of a grievance is an issue or complaint that an employee raises with their employer. The general principles for dealing with a grievance at work are:
- The issue should be dealt with promptly and any meetings or decisions should not be unreasonably delayed
- The parties involved should act consistently
- Employers should appropriately carry out investigations to establish the facts of the case
- Employees should be given an opportunity to state their case before any decisions are made
- Employees should be given the opportunity to be accompanied to any grievance meeting
- Employees should be allowed to appeal any formal decision
These principles also apply to dismissal procedures.
Employees have a statutory right to be accompanied to any grievance meetings where the issue relates to a complaint about a duty owed to the employee by the employer. The accompanying person can be either a fellow worker, a trade union representative, or a trade union official.
If you disagree with any formal decision made by your employer even after appeal, you can take the matter further. You must inform ACAS if you intend to start Employment Tribunal proceedings. ACAS will then give you the opportunity to resolve the matter using their conciliation services.
ACAS dismissal procedure
ACAS carries important information on the best practice for dismissing employees as well as information about fair and unfair dismissals and suspensions.
Employers are encouraged to only dismiss employees as a last resort, ensuring they carry out an appropriate investigation without delay and follow fair and consistent dismissal procedures.
As an employee, you have the right not to be unfairly dismissed and employers should follow the ACAS Code of Practice and Guide to Discipline and Grievances at Work. Although these documents are not legally enforceable, an Employment Tribunal will take them into account during any proceedings.
ACAS unfair dismissal
Some dismissals are automatically unfair in employment law, including dismissals relating to:
- Pregnancy and maternity leave
- Paternity leave
- Other family matters, including adoption and taking time off for dependents
- Requests for flexible working
- Refusal to waive your employee rights, such as the right to take rest breaks
- Taking time off for jury service
You may be entitled to unfair dismissal compensation if you’re dismissed due to an automatically unfair reason. We can provide detailed advice about the amount of compensation you could expect to receive.
ACAS constructive dismissal
Constructive dismissal arises when you’re forced to quit your job because of something your employer has done, including:
- Failing to pay you
- Demoting you for no reason
- Forcing you to change how you work, such as ordering you to work night shifts
- Taking no steps to prevent other employees bullying or harassing you
You could be entitled to constructive dismissal compensation if you can prove your employer forced you to leave your job and we can provide advice about the amount of compensation you may be awarded.
Suspension is where an employee remains employed but does not attend work or undertake any of their job responsibilities. The process should not be used as a disciplinary tool, but may be appropriate where:
- There is an allegation of serious misconduct
- There are medical grounds to suspend
- There are workplace risks to a new or expectant mother
ACAS sets out detailed information about when and how suspensions should be used as part of disciplinary proceedings and it should only be used if absolutely necessary.
ACAS working hours
A common dispute which arises between employers and employees concern working hours. Generally, under the Working Time Directive (or Working Time Regulations) you cannot work more than an average of 48 hours per week. However, many employers will ask you to opt out of this rule. It’s not illegal for an employer to do this but they cannot dismiss you or treat you unfairly if you refuse.
Workers are usually entitled to various breaks, including:
- At least one 20 minute break every 6 hours
- At least 11 consecutive hours of rest every 24 hours
- 1 day off a week or 2 consecutive days every fortnight
If your employer is breaching the Working Time Regulations, you can raise the issue informally, make a formal complaint, and bring an Employment Tribunal Claim if necessary.
ACAS flexible working
You have a statutory right to request flexible working if you’ve been employed for more than 26 weeks. Your employer can only refuse if there are business reasons for doing so. Types of flexible working include:
- Working from home
- Temporary contract
- Part-time working
- Job sharing
- Shift work
ACAS outlines the procedure employers should utilise to consider flexible working requests and the employer and employee’s compliance with the ACAS flexible working Code of Practice can be taken into account during any Employment Tribunal proceedings.
ACAS Early Conciliation procedure
Employees typically have 3 months from the date of their employer’s final decision to lodge an Employment Tribunal Claim. However, before filing any claim, you must inform ACAS of your intentions and you will be given the opportunity to engage in Early Conciliation for an initial period of up to 1 month. During this time, the 3 month limitation period to bring a Tribunal claim will be paused.
After Early Conciliation, the 3 month clock will start ticking again, but you have the opportunity to use ACAS conciliation right up until Tribunal proceedings start. The majority of all employment claims settle without going to a Tribunal.
An ACAS officer is appointed to every potential Tribunal claim to “conciliate”, which means that they act as an independent go-between to help the parties to reach a settlement and avoid Tribunal hearings. The standard form on which a conciliator records an ACAS conciliation settlement is called a COT3.
As well as the conciliation procedure, ACAS also offer mediation and arbitration to help employers and employees settle their dispute without going to an Employment Tribunal.
If, after utilising ACAS, you require advice or assistance to negotiate your claim, advice on the terms of a COT3, or advice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, we can help you. For further information, please contact Judith Curran by emailing email@example.com or telephone our offices in Orpington, Kent.
Why choose our employment solicitors?
As part of our employment law services, we can help you access and understand the ACAS advice and guidance on various employment matters and provide advice on conciliation and the terms of any ACAS COT3 agreement.
We can also advise and support you prior to ACAS’s involvement during any informal or formal grievance or disciplinary proceedings with your employer. We’ll also represent you during any Employment Tribunal proceedings in the event that conciliation is unsuccessful.
Our solicitors are committed to expanding their knowledge and promoting principles of best practice within the employment law profession. Our employment team is headed up by Judith Curran, who is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association along with our solicitors, Laura Claridge and Paida Dube.
Judith is also an Associate Member and Laura is an Affiliate Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
Clarkson Wright & Jakes is independently regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Get in touch with our employment law solicitors
For further information, get in touch with our ACAS employment law solicitors by giving us a call at our offices in Orpington, Kent, or by completing our online enquiry form.