Employment and Early Conciliation

1 June 2020 – updated 13 May 2021
2 minutes

Given the implications of COVID-19, unfortunately now more than ever people may be experiencing issues within their employment.

New rules, The Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunal (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020, were brought into force in the Office of the Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunals in January 2020 which, alongside many changes, made Early Conciliation a requirement.

Previously, to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal, proceedings were initiated by lodging an ET1 Claim Form. Now, however, you must first contact the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) regarding Early Conciliation. Whilst you have to make contact with the LRA, you do not have to take part in the Early Conciliation process.

Once the Conciliation officer makes contact with you or your representative, you can either request they attempt to talk to the other side with regards to conciliation or, as above, state you do not want to Conciliate.  If you do not want to Conciliate you will receive a certificate containing a reference number that you will need to lodge your claim in the Tribunal.

Please note the Early Conciliation requirement does have some small exceptions.

If you wish to Conciliate, the officer will make contact with the other side to determine their views and, if the other side also wish to conciliate, the officer will attempt to resolve the matter. If an agreement is reached between the parties, it will be in the form of a conciliation agreement which is legally binding. If no agreement is reached, a certificate is issued which contains a reference number you will require if you desire to lodge proceedings.

This new requirement is a watershed event in Northern Ireland’s employment law landscape. Time limits are very strict in employment law; often proceedings have to be lodged three months from the date of an act/ 3 months from the last act in a series of connected acts. If you make an Early Conciliation notification before the time limit is up, it “pauses” and “stops the clock” on your limitation date for up to one month. This allows time to explore Conciliation and this “pause” can be extended by 2 weeks if the parties are close to an agreement.

As well as being a watershed event, it brings other positives in that it can protect your position whilst exploring settlement, it can reduce legal fees by avoiding expensive litigation, it is private, is offers an alternative to attending the Tribunal which can be a stressful process, it can also allow for quicker results and for you to maintain more control on the outcome.

If you require any further information or assistance, please contact a member of our Employment team to discuss.

This article is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional legal advice.

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