The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) may be able to help you resolve the matter before it reaches an employment-related tribunal hearing. This is a process known as 'conciliation'.
This is an impartial and confidential service that is free to users and entirely voluntary - it can only go ahead if both you and the claimant (or potential claimant) agree.
You and/or the claimant may decide at any stage of the process that you want to be independently advised and/or represented. If this is the case, the LRA conciliator will conduct any subsequent discussions with the representative(s).
When an employment-related tribunal receives a claim against you, it will send a copy of the ET1(NI) claim form to the LRA at the same time as it is sent to you.
The conciliator will contact you and the claimant - or your and/or their representative, if appointed - to discuss the claim and explore the potential for settlement.
These discussions develop in different ways according to the circumstances of each individual claim. However, they usually involve the conciliator:
- explaining to you and the claimant what potential legal issues might arise in the claim, and pointing out how tribunals tend to look at similar situations
- outlining the procedures that tribunals follow
- discussing what you and the claimant would each like the outcome to be and whether there are any obvious grounds for settlement
- acting as a neutral channel of communication
- helping you and the claimant to draw up a legally binding settlement that you both agree with, to avoid the need for a tribunal hearing
The conciliator will be available to help both you and your employee to resolve the claim should you both wish to do so, by way of an agreed settlement, at any time before the matter is finally determined by the employment-related tribunal. Where such a settlement is not attainable the conciliator will advise both parties of the potential to resolve the matter by way of the LRA Arbitration Scheme.
This type of conciliation applies in situations where you have been unable to resolve the issue using your grievance procedure, and an individual is likely to make a claim against you but hasn't yet done so.
They or you can ask the LRA to conciliate as an alternative to going ahead with the claim. It works just like ET1(NI) conciliation, and is free, confidential and impartial.
The aim of pre-claim conciliation is for you and the potential claimant to agree to a legally binding settlement that means they cannot subsequently raise the issue at the employment-related tribunal.
If you want to know whether or not pre-claim conciliation is suitable for your particular circumstances, you can call the LRA Helpline on Tel 028 9032 1442.
Benefits of conciliation
Whether it takes place before or after an individual submits a claim, conciliation may prove to be more beneficial than having the matter decided by an employment-related tribunal because it:
- Saves time and money - responding to a tribunal claim takes a great deal of time, and if there's a tribunal hearing, you may well end up paying for legal representation.
- Minimises stress - being involved in a tribunal claim can put pressure on both the employer and the employee, and many people find defending a legal claim stressful.
- Offers the prospect of a quick solution - many cases can be dealt with in a few telephone calls or a short meeting, with agreed settlements implemented very soon afterwards.
- Produces a win-win outcome - in a tribunal, someone always loses - and even if you 'win', you will not always get what you want from the process.
- Leaves you and the claimant in control - you reach an agreement that has been agreed by both of you, while in the tribunal, the decision is taken out of your hands.
- Resolves the dispute to suit what both you and the claimant want, rather than what the tribunal has the power to award - for example, you could agree to provide good references, which might be more helpful to the claimant than a large cash sum.
- Avoids the formality of a hearing - although the tribunal is more informal than most courts, most people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with legal processes.
- Early settlement preserves the working relationship - tribunal claims inevitably damage working relationships, pre claim conciliation offers greater opportunity for preserving and restoring the working relationship.