The main forum for determining employment disputes is the Employment Tribunal. Certain claims (e.g. personal injury claims and breach of contract claims worth more than £25,000) must be brought in the civil courts i.e. the High Court or County Court.
In order to bring an Employment Tribunal claim, an employee must first contact a public body called ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) regarding settlement. This is known as ‘ACAS Early Conciliation’.
If Early Conciliation does not result in settlement, ACAS will issue a certificate to the claimant confirming that process has concluded. The individual must then file a claim form (ET1) and particulars of claim. Employers are given 28 days to respond to an Employment Tribunal claim. The response must be submitted using a prescribed form (ET3). Failure to submit a response in time may result in the employer not being allowed to take part in the proceedings. Extensions of time are only granted in very limited circumstances.
Subject to some exceptions, employees generally have 3 months from the date of the act complained of (e.g. dismissal or discriminatory decision) to submit a claim to the Employment Tribunal. The time limit for equal pay claims is 6 months. However, the time limits may be varied depending on the progress of ACAS Early Conciliation.
For contractual claims, the time limit is 3 months in the Employment Tribunal and 6 years in the civil courts (12 years if the contract was by deed).
Employment disputes may be settled at any time. Contractual claims can be settled by a simple agreement between the parties. Statutory employment claims, however, may only be settled using a prescribed form of settlement agreement which must meet certain conditions.
ACAS also has the power to conclude binding settlements under a “Form COT3”. This can be achieved during ACAS Early Conciliation or at any time after a claim has been brought. Once Early Conciliation has concluded, engagement with ACAS is optional.