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Pre-claim conciliation service

What you need to know


Pre-claim conciliation service with the Labour Relations Agency

The number and extent of individual employment rights have increased dramatically in recent times. This has led to a greater number of claims being lodged with the Industrial Tribunal where workers and employees allege that their employment rights have been breached. It makes good business sense to resolve disputes in the workplace at the earliest opportunity.

In advance of the implementation of Early Conciliation in 2016, the Labour Relations Agency is promoting its free pre-claim conciliation service. So in order to keep things straightforward the material below explains what pre-claim conciliation is.

Where a problem or disagreement in the workplace is likely to lead to a tribunal claim the Labour Relations Agency will often be able to help employers and employees find a solution that is acceptable to both. This service is known as Pre-Claim Conciliation. It can save you the time, stress and expense normally associated with a tribunal claim.

Issues referred for Pre-claim Conciliation are dealt with by Conciliation Officers who talk through the problem, outline your options, discuss the benefits of the service and answer any questions you may have.

We do not impose outcomes or make judgements on the rights or wrongs of the matter in dispute; we simply try to help people settle their differences on their own terms.

Key features of the Labour Relations Agency's pre-claim conciliation service

Conciliation officers are impartial - they do not:

  • Represent either the employer or the employee
  • Take sides or judge who is right or wrong
  • Give an explicit opinion on the merits of a claim or potential claim
  • Advise on tactics, or how to win at a tribunal
  • Pressurise people to settle or abandon a case

Conciliation is voluntary

  • Employers and employees can opt in or out at any time
  • The conciliation officer has no power to compel anyone to take any course of action
  • There are no restrictions on what can be included in the terms of a settlement agreement (as long as it does not contain anything unlawful)

Conciliation is confidential

  • Nothing you say to us will be passed to other parties without your agreement
  • What you say during conciliation cannot be used as evidence against you at a tribunal

Conciliation is independent

  • It is entirely separate from the tribunal process and if a settlement is not reached a claim can still be pursued
  • Conciliation is free
  • There is no charge for our service

What are the options? - Use workplace procedures or settle the matter privately

If an employee believes they could complain about their employment rights but has not yet made a claim to a tribunal, there are several ways to resolve the matter without going any further.

Use workplace procedures
Employers and employees should always try this before considering any other option. It’s usually quicker, less stressful and less costly for all concerned.

Settle the matter privately
You can choose to settle the matter privately in certain circumstances but a private settlement reached without the assistance of an appropriate adviser may not be legally binding. If you decide to explore this option you should take advice. If an agreed solution cannot be found the employee may still choose to lodge a claim with the tribunal. Claims must be made within a specified time of the events they concern. In most cases this is three months.

In limited circumstances the tribunal can accept late claims but taking part in conciliation or any of the other activities described above does not provide grounds for this. It is the employee’s responsibility to find out what time limits apply and ensure they do not lose the right to make a claim if the matter cannot be resolved before then. Employers or employees who are in any
doubt as to how this might affect a particular case should seek legal advice.

Why choose pre-claim conciliation

Saves time and money
Preparing or responding to a tribunal claim takes a great deal of time, and if there is a tribunal hearing both employer and employee could have representational costs.

Minimises stress
Almost everyone finds the process of pursuing or defending a case difficult and appearing in tribunal can be a stressful experience.

Quick Solution
Many cases can be dealt with in a few telephone calls or a short meeting, with agreed settlements implemented very soon afterwards.

Win-Win Outcome
In a tribunal someone always loses and even the ‘winner’ will not always get what he or she wants from the process.

Settlements are reached by agreement on terms that suit the parties. In the tribunal the decision is taken out of the parties’ hands and there are restrictions on what the tribunal can award (e.g. they cannot order references to be given).

Avoids Formality
Although the tribunal is less ‘stuffy’ and legalistic than most courts it is still a judicial process with which most people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

Can restore the employment relationship
If that is what the employer and employee want to achieve.

Avoids Formality
Although the tribunal is less ‘stuffy’ and legalistic than most courts it is still a judicial process with which most people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

Can restore the employment relationship
If that is what the employer and employee want to achieve.


What will the Conciliation Officer do?

To explore how the potential claim might be resolved the conciliation officer will talk through the issues with the employer and the employee. Where appropriate, the conciliation officer will also:

  • Explain the pre-claim conciliation process
  • Explain the way tribunals operate, and what they take into account in deciding claims in similar circumstances
  • Discuss the options
  • Ask questions to help clarify the employer and employee’s positions and concerns
  • Help each person understand how the other views the case
  • Relay any proposals for a settlement between the employer and the employee.

The conciliation officer will not:

  • Make a judgement on the case, or the likely outcome of a tribunal hearing
  • Advise either the employer or the employee whether or not to accept any proposals for settlement

Further information

For further details about the Labour Relations Agency's Pre-Claim Conciliation Service, contact:

LRA logo
Mark McAllister, Employment Relations Manager
Tel: 028 90 321 442

  • Download our latest employment equality law update (April 2016, pdf, 2.46mb) - This newsletter is produced by the Equality Commission and the Labour Relations Agency and focuses on equality and employment law from a Northern Ireland perspective.

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