Published on 12 November 2019
Added by Keelin Kelly

Following a change in employment law, the Labour Relations Agency will provide a new service to employees, employers, and their representatives. 

Early Conciliation comes into effect from 27 January 2020.  As a result, anyone who wishes to lodge a claim with the Industrial or Fair Employment Tribunal must first notify the Agency and discuss the option of Early Conciliation.  Potential claimants will not be able to proceed to tribunal without at least considering this option. 

This marks a significant change from the current situation, whereby claims can be lodged with the tribunal and the Agency then has a duty to make contact with the parties to offer conciliation.

Tribunal claims usually have to be presented within three or six months of the alleged incident or behaviour, depending on the type of claim.  However, when an individual makes an Early Conciliation notification the clock will stop for a period up to one calendar month during which conciliation can take place.  The Conciliation Officer will also have the power to extend for a further 14 days providing there is a reasonable prospect of an agreement and that both parties agree.

Tom Evans, Chief Executive of the Labour Relations Agency explained:  “Early Conciliation is about more than just a change in process.  It represents a valuable opportunity to bring cultural change in how workplace disputes are resolved in Northern Ireland.  We know that early engagement is the most effective way to resolve workplace problems, before parties become embroiled in an often bitter, legal confrontation.  All too often that approach destroys any hope of repairing the working relationship and can leave employers and employees alike significantly out of pocket.

“Last year the Agency dealt with 4,500 cases about individual employment rights and only 8% proceeded to tribunal.  For those that reach a conciliated agreement, there are numerous benefits compared with going through a tribunal, including the privacy of the process, lack of fees, speed and control over the content of the settlement.  There are also benefits for the labour market and economy with fewer costs and losses in productivity,” said Tom.

To make an Early Conciliation notification, log on from 27 January 2020 to www.lra.org.uk and fill in a short Early Conciliation notification form.  Those unable to do it online can phone the Agency on 03300 552 224 and a staff member will take the details.  Legal or trade union representatives can also do this on the individual’s behalf.  Alternatively people can download the form, complete it by hand and post it to the Agency, or call into one of our offices where we will provide a private space to complete the online form. 

The prospective claimant (or their representative) will then be contacted by one of the Agency’s Conciliation Officers, usually within five working days.  S/he will explain how conciliation works and, with the individual’s consent, will contact the other party to ask if there’s a willingness to try Early Conciliation.  If both parties agree, the Conciliation Officer will try to help find a solution they both find acceptable and the settlement will be legally binding.  If parties cannot agree a settlement, the Agency will issue an Early Conciliation certificate which individuals will need if they decide to proceed to tribunal.  

There are a small number of exemptions where individuals can go straight to tribunal if they wish.  A key one is in respect of disputes where there are multiple claims.  This means that if someone with exactly the same dispute has an Early Conciliation certificate, others do not need to submit their own Early Conciliation notification but can be added to the tribunal claim form for the lead case.  Conciliation discussions can then be managed collectively through a representative. 

For more information about Early Conciliation contact the Labour Relations Agency on 03300 552 220 or visit www.lra.org.uk.