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On 27th January 2020 the compulsory Early Conciliation procedure came into effect in Northern Ireland which was implemented with a view to reducing the volume of cases which reach the Industrial or Fair Employment Tribunal. Prior to lodging a claim at either tribunal, the claimant must first notify the Labour Relations Agency (LRA). The option of Early Conciliation must at least be considered and discussed with the LRA before proceeding to the tribunal.
Practically this is a straight forward procedure and you or your solicitor can notify and facilitate the discussion regarding Early Conciliation with the LRA. Furthermore, as the time limit for lodging a claim at the tribunals can be relatively restrictive (normally 3 months from the act or behaviour depending on the nature of the claim) the clock will stop for up to one month (with a potential to extend by a further 14 days) once the LRA has been notified.
Employers can also, with the employee’s consent, refer a matter for conciliation if they feel there is a situation within their workplace which may result in a claim at the tribunal. However, this process goes not stop the clock.
Once the LRA has been notified, normally within five working days a Conciliation Officer will make contact with the notifying party to explain how they may facilitate an arrangement between the involved parties in order to avoid a tribunal hearing. The Conciliation Officer will not force a solution upon either party but act as an impartial facilitator or any agreement.
This service is free and therefore often results in a better outcome for both employers and employees. Furthermore it is entirely confidential and an entirely separate process to any eventual hearing and therefore will not disadvantage any party at the tribunal.
If Early Conciliation is unsuccessful or if either party refuses to participate, the LRA will issue an Early Conciliation Certificate that will allow the claimant to proceed to lodge a claim at the relevant tribunal. There are a few instances in which a certificate is not required including, most notably where:
1. another employee with the same dispute has been given an Early Conciliation certificate number; or
2. an employer has already asked the LRA to get involved in the dispute.
All other claims will not be permitted to proceed unless the claimant notifies the LRA. This does complicate the time position somewhat. Previously if an employee was dismissed on 5th January then the deadline to submit the claim to the tribunal would be 5th April. Now if the LRA were notified on 10th January and the certificate issued on 10th February then 31 days would be added as the excluded period and the new deadline would be 6th May. Where the certificate is received within one month of the deadline you add one month to the date when the certificate is received which could extend the excluded period further.
The reality is that these changes and the increased complexity of the process will increase the risk that claims will be out of time if the claimant leaves it to the last minute to lodge the claim and then does not follow this process. Therefore, it is imperative if you have been unfairly dismissed, discriminated against in the work place or wish to discuss any other employment related concern from an employee or employer perspective that you make contact with your solicitor. Cleaver Fulton Rankin’s skilled and experienced employment team are here to help you make an informed decision as to your best course of action.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our Employment & Immigration Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.