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Employment law and the role of ACAS


Mon 4 March, 2019


Employment law is complex and understanding it and the role that the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) play in it can be a job in itself.

The laws that cover the workplace help to regulate the relationship between employers and their employees.

The legal guidelines help to combat discrimination and promote equality at work and to ensure that all parties act in a manner that is equitable.

Legislation that covers the workplace starts with recruitment and moves through a full cycle that can end in the termination of employment through many different means.

Employment law is constantly changing and being updated (1). However, the role of ACAS remains crucial, as it has done for a long time.

The organisation dates back to 1896, when the government set up a voluntary conciliation and arbitration service (2)

It remained under the government wing for some time and there were some name changes, but the organisation offered much the same services as it does today.

Renamed the Conciliation and Arbitration Service it separated from government control in 1974, with an independent council to provide direction. 'Advisory' was added to the name in 1975 to reflect the full range of services and a year later it was made a statutory body by the Employment Protection Act 1975.

ACAS describes its current role as providing free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law (3)

The service has historically played a role in working to help settle a number of high profile disputes.

The arbitration service tried to find a bridge between warring employers and unions during ‘the winter of discontent’, which saw a series of strikes by public sector workers in 1979 that resulted in rubbish piling up on the streets. (4)

And also in the 1984/5 miners' strike which began on 5 March 1984 and lasted until 3 March 1985 (5)

As well as being involved in collective conciliation ACAS also provide an individual conciliation service. Anyone thinking of making an employment tribunal claim has to first notify ACAS. It then tries to resolve the dispute without the need for legal action through its free early conciliation service.

The aim is to help both sides reach a mutually acceptable solution, which avoids the potential cost, time and stress of the tribunal system.

ACAS has also produced statutory codes of practice including a guide on disciplinary and grievance procedures. Employment tribunals will take the Code into account when considering cases.

Tribunals have the power to adjust awards by up to 25 per cent for unreasonable failure to comply with the Code.

In the case of Ms Stockman who submitted a successful claim against Phoenix House, the tribunal applied and granted Ms Stockman a 25 per cent uplift in compensation for the employer’s breach of the Code (6) ACAS also run telephone and online helplines

Figures from the ACAS annual report 2017/2018 show that notifications to bring a tribunal claim have increased from 1,700 per week to 2,200 per week (29.4%) (7) It follows the Supreme Court’s decision in July 2017 to scrap employment tribunal fees.

The annual report, for the year ending 31 March 2018, notes that since the ruling a higher proportion of notifications have gone on to become claims lodged at an employment tribunal.

Overall notifications to ACAS increased by 19 per cent year-on-year (an increase of 17,000) and the number of cases that went on to a tribunal rose by 7,000 (a 39 per cent increase).


1.Employment law constantly changing [Internet] CIPD  [Cited 4.3.19]

2.ACAS [internet] ACAS [cited 4.3.19]

3.The role of ACAS [Internet] ACAS [cited 4.3.19]

4.The Winter of discontent [Internet] BBC news [Cited 4.3.19]

5.Miners’ strike [Internet] ITV news [Cited 4.3.19]

6.Stockman v Phoenix House [Internet] [Cited 4.3.19]

7.Tribunal claim figures increase [Internet] ACAS [cited 4.3.19]

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