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Mediation ‘can be positive tool’ in employer grievances

An employment law expert has welcomed figures that show that a change in the law to promote early conciliation in employment disputes has seen thousands of people take part.

Under the scheme, from May, staff hoping to make a complaint which could end up at an employment tribunal must first notify Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, in order to consider negotiating a settlement with their employer.

If both parties are happy to enter into talks, Acas will act as a conciliator, avoiding the use of a costly tribunal. New figures from Acas show that between April and June, 17,145 people used the service – 1,000 per week in April and 1,600 per week during May and June.

Stacey Carter, Employment solicitor at Lancashire law firm Napthens, welcomed the news and said that early conciliation can offer a good opportunity for businesses.

She explained: “Tribunals can be costly, as well as time-consuming and often upsetting for both sides, so the move to encourage early conciliation made a lot of common sense.

“It may be tempting to see these figures as  proof that more people are making complaints, but remember that staff must now contact Acas prior to making a complaint which could end up at tribunal – very often it is clear there is no case to answer and the situation goes no further.

“In situations where a real grievance exists, conciliation can be an extremely useful way of ironing out differences between a business and staff, without the shadow of legal proceedings hanging over them.

“Conciliation can be a great way to listen to staff and allow these talks to influence working practices and management policies.

“I would encourage businesses to wherever possible work with Acas in this way and don’t be afraid to consult with your legal advisor to check your rights.”