As of 6 April 2009, the Employment Act 2008 repealed the Statutory Dispute Resolution Procedures in their entirety. In their place is a voluntary Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) Code of Practice, which sets out the basic principles for ensuring fairness and transparency when handling disciplinary problems and grievances in the workplace. The Code of Practice does not apply to dismissals due to redundancy nor to the non-renewal of fixed term contracts on their expiry.
A failure to follow the Code does not, in itself, make a person or organisation liable to proceedings. However, an Employment Tribunal (ET) has the discretion to increase or reduce an award by up to 25 per cent where either side unreasonably fails to comply with the Code.
The Code of Practice advises that attempts should always be made to settle disciplinary and grievance issues in the workplace. Where this is not possible, the use of an independent third party should be considered to help resolve the problem. This need not be someone from outside the organisation but could be an internal mediator, as long as they are not involved in the disciplinary or grievance issue. However, in some cases, an external mediator might be appropriate. Acas provides guidance on mediation.
The Code of Practice is supported by non-statutory guidance, which provides good practice advice on dealing with discipline issues and grievances in the workplace. The guidance contains sample disciplinary and grievance procedures, as well as sample letters.
For ET claims lodged on or after 6 May 2014, a further opportunity for conciliation exists as it is now a legal requirement, unless an exemption applies, for a claimant to first notify Acas by completing an Early Conciliation notification form. ET claims will not be accepted unless this procedure has been followed and a formal Early Conciliation certificate has been issued.
Taking part in Early Conciliation is, however, voluntary. A potential claimant is under no obligation to try to resolve the dispute via this method, nor is an employer under any obligation to participate where the claimant does wish to conciliate. In addition, either the claimant or the employer can stop the process at any time.
For more information on Early Conciliation, see the Acas website.