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Understanding Acas and settlements

This advice applies to Wales

About understanding ACAS and settlements

If you've got a problem at work that you can't sort out, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

When you put in a claim to an employment tribunal, a Conciliation Officer from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (or Acas) will contact you to see if you want their help try and settle your claim.

This page tells you about Acas and what they can do to help you sort things out with your employer.

There may be other ways of sorting out your problem than making a claim to an employment tribunal.

To find out more about other ways of sorting out your problem at work, see Sorting out problems at work.

To find out more about making a claim to an employment tribunal, see Employment tribunals.

Who are Acas and what do they do?

Acas stands for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. They are a government-funded organisation that helps sort out employment disputes. When you make a claim to an employment tribunal, an Acas Conciliation Officer will contact you to see if you want to use Acas to help try and settle your claim. Settling your claim means coming to an agreement with your employer to stop the case before the tribunal hearing. A settlement usually involves your employer agreeing to pay you some money and you agreeing not to continue with the case.

After they've spoken to you, the Acas Conciliation Officer will contact your employer to see if they're prepared to negotiate through Acas to try and reach a settlement. Neither you or your employer have to use Acas but you'll usually find their services helpful, particularly if you don't have a representative.

If you have a representative, Acas will speak to them. Your representative should keep you informed of how any negotiations are going. Some representatives may choose not to use Acas and negotiate directly with your employer instead.

If you agree a settlement through Acas it is binding on both you and your employer. This means that when you've signed the agreement, you have to stick to it. So make sure you don't agree to any terms of settlement unless you’re sure you want to accept them. You can't change your mind and carry on with your case once you have told Acas that you agree to the settlement.

If you don't have a representative, you should try to get advice on the terms of the settlement before you agree to it.

The settlement will usually be recorded on an Acas form called a COT3. Your case will also be automatically withdrawn from the tribunal.

Contact Acas

To speak to an adviser about your employment problem, call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

The Acas website has information and advice on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

To find details of other organisations that might be able to help you, see What help can I get with a problem at work

Can Acas represent me?

Acas don't represent people in employment cases. Their job is to try and help you and your employer settle your case.

This doesn't mean that they will try to get the best deal for you, but one that both you and your employer will accept. So if you can't reach an agreement that both you and your employer are happy with, Acas will stop their involvement, and you can decide whether to go on with your case to the employment tribunal.

What's a settlement agreement?

A settlement agreement is a settlement that is agreed directly between you and your employer, not through Acas. Some employers prefer not to go through Acas, or may have other reasons that they prefer to use a settlement agreement.

The effect of signing a settlement agreement is similar to signing an agreement through Acas. The agreement usually says that you agree not to take your case to the employment tribunal, and your employer agrees to pay you some money. There might be other conditions in the agreement, for example about confidentiality.

The law says that for the settlement agreement to be legally binding, you have to get independent legal advice. You might be able to get advice from your adviser or representative, but make sure they are properly qualified. If you don't have an adviser or representative, or they can't give you this advice, you'll need to find a solicitor. Many employers will pay for you to see a solicitor of your choice.

To find details of organisations that might be able to give you advice or help you find a solicitor, see What help can I get with a problem at work

If you agree a settlement agreement with your employer, you or your adviser or representative will need to withdraw your case from the employment tribunal. You can do this by writing to the tribunal.

What is judicial mediation?

Judicial mediation is a way of resolving a dispute with your employer without the need to go to a full hearing. It is offered by the Employment Tribunals service, is confidential and held in private. A trained employment judge acts as the impartial mediator.

You can't choose to go for judicial mediation yourself. An employment judge will suggest to you and your employer that mediation might be a good way to sort out your problem. It will normally be offered at an early stage in the proceedings.

Only some cases are suitable for judicial mediation and both you and your employer must agree to go to it.

If you and your employer can't solve your problem through judicial mediation, your case can go on to a full tribunal hearing. Nothing that was said or done in judicial mediation can be referred to in a full tribunal hearing.

If mediation fails, the employment judge who conducted your case won't be involved in any future tribunal hearings.

Early conciliation

The Acas early conciliation scheme starts on 6 April and is compulsory for most employment tribunal claims from 6 May.

To find out more about early conciliation, see Early conciliation - how it works.

To find out more about how early conciliation affects time limits, see Early conciliation - how it affects the time limit for making a claim

What could I get from my employment tribunal case?

There are lots of possible outcomes from taking your case to an employment tribunal. For example, you might get compensation, an agreed reference from your employer or money back your employer owes you. There are lots of different things to think about when you're working out what you want from your case.

In terms of money, it's often hard to say exactly how much you might get from your case. An adviser or representative should be able to give you an idea of the range of compensation you might get if you win your case in the tribunal. They might do this by putting together a schedule of loss.

If you don't have an adviser or representative, you might be able to get help with to work out how much your case is worth.

For details of organisations which might be able to help you, see What help can I get with a problem at work

Try not to be influenced by very high figures for compensation you sometimes see in the press. These cases are very much the exception rather than the rule, and the situation might be very different to your claim. Try to keep your expectations realistic.

What's a schedule of loss?

A schedule of loss is a document that helps you work out how much compensation you might get from the tribunal if you win your case. You can also use it if you're negotiating to settle your case with your employer before the tribunal hearing.

The schedule of loss is made up of different parts. It includes sections for different things you may be claiming, for example unpaid wages, compensation for unfair dismissal or injury to feelings.

For example, if your case includes claiming back money taken from your wages, or holiday or notice pay your employer owes you, you should put the actual amount of money you're owed in the schedule of loss.

If your case is about unfair dismissal or discrimination you may also want to claim for compensation. This is made up of two parts, called the basic award and the compensatory award. If your case is about discrimination you may also be able to get compensation for injury to feelings.

To find out more about how much you can claim for compensation if you've been dismissed, see Dismissal.

If you have an adviser or representative, they should be able to help you to put together a schedule of loss.

You might be able to get advice on how the amounts for each part of the schedule of loss are worked out.

For details of organisations that might be able to help, see What help can I get with a problem at work

Should I settle outside the employment tribunal?

There are lots of reasons why you might want to settle your case outside the employment tribunal. By settling, you avoid the stress and worry of having to go to the hearing. You may also be able to agree a settlement that is better than what you might get from the tribunal. For example, you may be able to agree a reference as part of the settlement that could have more value to you in the long run than any money. If you're unsure about the strength of your case, you may prefer the certainty of getting something, rather than risk losing in the tribunal. By getting your employer to pay something, it is a form of victory and recognition that they may have treated you badly.

How do I know my employer will keep to the terms of the settlement?

Most employers will keep to the terms of the settlement and pay up. A few, though, may delay paying you or even refuse to pay up. Usually, you'll have to take further action in the courts to get your employer to pay up. In a few situations, you may be able to carry on with your tribunal claim, or start a new claim to get your employer to pay up.

If your employer is refusing to keep to the terms of your settlement, you should try to get advice from your adviser or representative. If you don't have an adviser or representative, there may be an organisation which can help you.

For details of organisations that might be able to help, see What help can I get with a problem at work

For more information about taking court action to force your employer to keep to the terms of a settlement, go to the The Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers' website at: www.smaso.org.

Next steps

For the next steps in making a claim to an employment tribunal, see Preparing an employment tribunal case

More about problems at work

For more information about how to sort out problems at work, see Sorting out problems at work.

Further help

For information on organisations which can help with employment problems, see What help can I get with a problem at work

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