Since 2014, it has been a requirement of bringing most claims in the Employment Tribunal that the claimant must try and contact ACAS first to see if a dispute can be resolved without the need to refer to the courts. This process is called early conciliation.
As part of the requirement to undertake early conciliation, it is a requirement that a claim cannot be submitted without an early conciliation certificate number. This is a document that confirms to the Tribunal that the claimant has followed the early conciliation process, and is issued by ACAS.
The recent case of Pryce v BaxterStorey Ltd has demonstrated the importance of the requirement to following the rules before submitting an employment Tribunal claim.
In that case Ms Pryce was dismissed on 23 August 2019. On the same day she submitted an Employment Tribunal claim citing race and sex discrimination. On the claim form she indicated that she did not have an early conciliation certificate number, and incorrectly stated that ACAS did not have the power to conciliate the claim. Later that day, Miss Pryce notified ACAS of the dispute and was then told by ACAS that she would need the certificate number to satisfy the tribunal's requirements.
On 27 August 2019, just 4 days later, the certificate was issued to Miss Pryce and she emailed the Employment Tribunal providing the certificate number.
The issue was not spotted until a preliminary hearing on 3 February 2020. It was the Employment Judge who noted that the claim had been presented at the time when there was no ACAS early conciliation certificate in existence, and concluded that he had no choice but to dismiss Mr Pryce's claim. The Judge's ruling was that this was a jurisdictional matter in which he had no discretion. Ms Pryce later appealed, arguing among other things that her letter of 27 August constituted a re-submission of her claim which was then compliant as at that point she had an early conciliation certificate, and that because the claim had been accepted by the Tribunal, the requirement to obtain the early conciliation certificate should have been treated as having been waived by the Tribunal, or by the respondent who had not noticed the error.
Ms Pryce's arguments did not succeed, and her claim remained struck out. The Tribunal pointed out that as the submission of a claim with an early conciliation certificate number is a statutory requirement, it cannot be waived by the respondent or the Tribunal in any circumstances.
This is just one example of the strict requirements that the Tribunal have relating to the presentation of the claim, and a lesson to claimants into how easy it is to get them wrong. In this case Ms Pryce's claim was submitted well within the time limits, and the early conciliation number provided within 4 days of the submission of her claim. However, the rules in this case are absolute, allowing the Tribunal no jurisdiction to be lenient on a claimant who is not in compliance.
Should you have any queries about Tribunal procedure, or require assistance with the presentation of an Employment Tribunal claim, please contact Charlotte Braham on 01494 893529