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The framework for resolving employment disputes in Great Britain emphasises the importance of the early resolution of workplace matters in the workplace. It consists of two key elements:
and gives employees and employers flexibility to deal with workplace discipline and grievance issues in a way which suits them best.
The legislative measures are based on the Employment Act 2008. The Act paved the way for the revision of the Acas statutory Code of Practice on discipline and grievance, which now sets out the principles that employers and employees should follow when dealing with disputes at work.
The foreword to the Code highlights that employers and employees should always seek to resolve disciplinary and grievance issues informally.
However, where an issue cannot be resolved informally, then it may be pursued formally. According to the Code, employers and employees should behave fairly and reasonably when taking formal action to resolve their dispute.
The Acas Code specifies what employers and employees should do to achieve a reasonable standard of behaviour in handling grievance and disciplinary/dismissal situations at work. However, sometimes it will not be practicable for employers and employees to take all the steps set out in the Acas Code of Practice: what is classed as reasonable behaviour will depend on the circumstances of each case and is ultimately a matter for employment tribunals to decide.
Whenever a disciplinary or grievance process is being followed, the basic principles of fairness set out in the Acas Code should still be observed. For example, issues (both employers’ and employees’) should be raised and dealt with promptly and there should not be unreasonable delays in holding meetings, making decisions or providing confirmation of those decisions. Employees should be informed of the allegations against them and should be given an opportunity to put their case in response before decisions are reached. Employers should allow employees to be accompanied at any formal disciplinary or grievance meeting and should give them the right to appeal before a decision is reached.
Although a failure to follow the Code does not, in itself, make a person or organisation liable to proceedings, employment tribunals are legally required to take the Code into account when considering relevant cases. The employment tribunal will consider whether a failure to follow the Code was unreasonable and may take into account factors such as the size of business. The tribunal has discretion to adjust any awards made to either party by up to 25 per cent for unreasonable failure to comply with any provision of the Code. This means that if the tribunal considers that an employer has unreasonably failed to follow the guidance set out in the Code they can increase any award they have made by up to 25 per cent. Conversely, if they feel an employee has unreasonably failed to follow the guidance set out in the code they can reduce any award they have made by up to 25 per cent.
The Government also invests a significant amount of resources in services to help employers and employees resolve their disputes earlier:
The enhanced Acas helpline, now open 8.00 am to 8.00 pm Monday to Friday and 9.00 am to 1.00 pm on Saturday, will help employers and employees and their respective representatives to identify the most appropriate way to deal with their disputes as well as offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.
Acas helpline: 08457 47 47 47
This early conciliation service (“Pre-Claim Conciliation”, or “PCC” for short) is a free service for both employers and employees in appropriate circumstances i.e. where they are facing problems which are potential employment tribunal claims. It is delivered via a network of Acas conciliators across Great Britain. Disputes that employers and employees have been unable to resolve by other means (such as internal grievance, discipline or appeal procedures) and which are likely to give rise to an employment tribunal claim if third party help is not provided, may be suitable for early conciliation.
The Acas helpline advisers will be able to identify whether a particular case may be suitable for referral to the pre-claim conciliation service, and if so, will put the parties in touch with a conciliator.
Where a tribunal claim has been made, Acas offers conciliation free to both sides with the aim of resolving the matter without the need to attend a hearing.
The Acas arbitration scheme can be used by parties to decide cases of alleged unfair dismissal or claims under flexible working legislation (where there are no complex legal issues) as a means of resolving the dispute without the cost and stress of going to a tribunal.
The Government has been working closely with the workplace mediation community to encourage the use of mediation, where this is appropriate. The foreword to the Acas Code makes clear the benefits of using mediation in helping to resolve workplace disputes.
A number of workplace mediation providers are registered members of the Civil Mediation Council (for England and Wales) or are on the Scottish Mediation Register managed by the Scottish Mediation Network (for Scotland). These providers declare that they meet certain standards covering training, practice development, codes of conduct, complaints handling and indemnity insurance. A list of registered workplace mediation providers can be found at the Civil Mediation Council for England and Wales and at the Scottish Mediation Network for Scotland.
On 6 April 2009 the Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations 2004, which laid down a mandatory “three-step” procedure, were repealed and replaced by a new framework based on the provisions of the Employment Act 2008 in Great Britain.
The Employment Act 2008 was introduced following an independent review of the employment dispute resolution system in Great Britain, led by Michael Gibbons. The Gibbons review ‘Better dispute resolution: a review of employment dispute resolution in Great Britain’ was published on 21 March 2007.
The Government welcomed the review and published 'Resolving disputes in the Workplace - A consultation' which set out measures for taking the Gibbons Review forward.
Responses to the consultation enabled the Government to identify key legislative reforms for inclusion in the Employment Act. Details of all these measures are set out in the Government response to the consultation.
Resolving disputes in the workplace - a consultation
If you are an employer in Great Britain, guidance and practical advice for business can be found on businesslink.gov.uk.
If you are an employee in Great Britain, guidance on all employment rights including the current dispute resolution system can be found on Directgov.
If you are an employer or an employee in Great Britain (or a representative of either), Acas operate a free, impartial and confidential, helpline to provide information and advice on individual employment right issues that may not be covered by Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk:
Acas helpline number: 08457 47 47 47
The Acas statutory Code of Practice on discipline and grievance and the Employment Act 2008 are not applicable to Northern Ireland: the dispute resolution procedures in Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the Department for Employment and Learning of Northern Ireland (DELNI).
If you are an employer in Northern Ireland, guidance on the dispute resolution procedures can be found on the nibusinessinfo website.
If you are an employee in Northern Ireland, guidance on the dispute resolution procedures can be found on the nidirect website
If you are either an employer or an employee in Northern Ireland, the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) operates a helpline and website that will give you information on all employment rights issues, including advice on the options available for dealing with a problem at work. Northern Ireland has also its own separate mediation and conciliation services. You can find out more about these from the Labour Relations Agency (LRA).
Acas aims to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training, dispute resolution services and works with employers and employees to solve problems and improve performance.
Employment tribunals are independent judicial bodies which determine disputes relating mainly to individual employment rights. Their aim is to provide speedy, accessible and relatively informal justice.
BIS has policy responsibility for employment tribunals, including the Rules of Procedure.
Administrative support to employment tribunals is provided by the Tribunals Service, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The Tribunals Service provides common administrative support to the main central government tribunals.
More information on employment tribunals, including the process for making a claim and the latest Rules of Procedure can be found on the Tribunals Service (Employment) website.