What is Acas?
Acas (Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service) is an independent public body sponsored by the UK government entrusted with fostering better employment relations across the United Kingdom.
Acas was formed in 1896 with the approval of the Conciliation Act. The service was renamed many times throughout its history and has been progressively given more prominent functions.
In May 2012, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill bestowed many additional responsibilities on Acas, particularly with the implementation of the Early Conciliation service (more on this later).
As said earlier, Acas does not replace legal representation, nor does it fight in favour of one or the other party. While the Acas personnel can offer advice, this advice is impartial and free, meaning they may not “go the extra mile” in pushing your cause.
How is Acas Structured?
Acas is governed by an independent council of experts selected by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. The council comprises a Chief Executive and various general secretaries and directors, both regional and national.
The council is also supported by two sub-committees and the Executive Board, the last of which ensures that the organisation meets its objectives more tangibly.
Acas could be called to intervene as an impartial third party to “mend the fence” whenever affairs get tense between the main parties of an employment contract.
In most circumstances, the affected party wishing to make a claim at an employment tribunal (e.g., because of a dismissal) must first inform Acas, who will then propose an “Early Conciliation” process.
While Acas is neither a judicial body nor part of the court system, it cooperates with employment tribunals by filtering out any controversies that could be settled without a judge’s assessment, relieving them of considerable workload.
With that said, even in cases that would not require Acas‘ feedback or conciliation efforts, it’s always best practice to submit the matter to them for an amicable resolution.
These are some of the actions Acas takes during conciliation:
- It will try to define the main issues being brought up
- It will prompt both the accused and accuser to examine their respective positions more carefully
- It’ll attempt to meet both parties in private to sort out several matters related to the dispute
- Arrange a meeting whereby both parties can come to reasonable terms
- It will try to salvage the relationship by giving impartial guidance
The agreement reached after the conciliation meetings is legally binding between the parties. These arrangements are contained in a Settlement Agreement or COT3.
In conciliation, the third party has no authority to bind the conflicting sides. On the other hand, in arbitration, the third party’s (arbitrator’s) judgment is final and can even make awards payable to the winning party.
In that sense, Acas would behave similarly to a judge but without all the formalities proper to a judicial process. For the record, an arbitrator’s decision is nearly impossible to contest.
Mediation is similar to arbitration, though the outcome differs in scope and force.
When acting as a mediator, Acas can only offer recommendations that the parties can decide to adopt or not. In addition, they cannot grant awards the way an arbitrator could.
In a nutshell, an Acas mediator would:
- Speak with the parties to help identify the issue
- Encourage both parties to examine each other’s claims in a different light and rethink their decision
- Make proposals on how the problem could be solved
Acas' Free Advice
Apart from meddling in labour disputes, Acas also gives free impartial advice to people of all categories, ranging from employers to employees, workers, and even self-employed individuals in some circumstances.
Acas can give helpful information on the following topics:
- Redundancy: How to make employees redundant due to economic or technological reasons, as well as what rights employees have during a redundancy process
- TUPE transfers: The protections employees and workers enjoy when transferring to a new employer and how employers should acknowledge these protections.
- Flexible working: How flexible working requests should be made or handled
- Employment contracts: Everything that ought to be mentioned or included in an employment contract depending on the type (fixed-term, zero-hours, part-time, etc.)
- Wages and payments: What workers and employees are entitled to receive (e.g., National Minimum Wage, maternity pay, etc.) as well as how to deal with overpayments and deductions
- Leaves and absences: What leaves could an employee or worker take (e.g., holiday, sickness, maternity, paternity, and so on)
- Health and safety: Aspects related to the health and well-being of employees or workers
- Dismissals and layoffs: What an employer should do to oust an employee (or reduce working hours) properly, and how employees should react in the face of an unfair or constructive unfair dismissal
- Working Hours: Rules on rest breaks, flexible working, maximum hours, etc.
- Disciplinaries and grievances at work: How employers and employees should approach controversies at work, either because of contract/statutory breaches or quarrels with colleagues
- Hiring: The rights of job applicants and the employer’s prerogatives when recruiting staff
Keep in mind that while the Acas helpline can give relevant information, they cannot pick a side nor intervene directly in favour of either party. This role is reserved for their legal representatives.
Acas also supplies handy resources for both employers and employees – such as example letters, forms, and HR-related templates – in order to smooth out paperwork and streamline procedures.
Examples of templates you could download from the Acas website include disciplinary meeting letters and Shared Parental Leave forms.
What Are the Acas Codes of Practice?
Acas has devised a series of manuals and codes that, while not strictly statutory, carry considerable weight in defining how both parties should behave in their day-to-day interactions.
As of the time of writing, the service has issued five codes of practice. These set minimum fairness standards that all workplaces should follow for best practice purposes. These codes are:
- Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures: This instrument focuses on disputes in the workplace that could involve unfair treatment or any other statutory/contractual violations by any of the parties
- Code of practice on disclosure of information to trade unions for collective bargaining purposes: This code of practice deals with the treatment due to trade unions whenever they inquire about a piece of information that’s relevant to their collective bargaining actions
- Code of Practice on time off for trade union duties and activities: This one covers how employers ought to grant time off to trade union representatives for various reasons, such as to conduct training or undertake union activities
- Code of Practice on settlement agreements: This code provides guidance on how to negotiate and reach a settlement agreement and what behaviour would be considered “inappropriate” in this context
- Code of Practice on handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly: Regulates the proper way for employees to ask for flexible hours and for employers to reply to these requests.
Acas' Public Consultation Responses
Acas often issues replies to consultations made by government officials. These responses (found on their website) are supposed to reflect the organisation’s current views on trending employment topics.
While they’re not binding, these responses tend to be regarded very highly by other public bodies and give further insight into how to solve some of the most pressing questions that may arise at a given moment in employer-employee relations.
As stressed earlier, Acas is essential to the UK’s employment system. It serves the primary function of bridging gaps in the oftentimes thorny relationships between employers and employees.
With that said, the aid of an employment lawyer is no less important, especially as it concerns the faithful adherence to the Acas codes of practice. In that respect, we help employers, employees, and workers of all sectors and strands understand and implement all the guidelines in those codes.
We also represent the best interests of our clients during conflict resolution processes where Acas intervenes, whether directly or indirectly.
Whether you are dealing with minor or serious complaints or issues against your employer or employee, we can help.
For more information on the legal services we provide, call us at 0333 305 9375.
Last modified on March 6th, 2023 at 5:12 pm
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An Acas code of practice aims primarily to persuade rather than compel.
Notwithstanding, as an employer, you might have a greater chance of getting a favourable outcome out of a hypothetical employment tribunal process if you at least abide by its principles.
Employers could draft internal codes and apply those instead. Nevertheless, these internal codes shouldn’t infringe on any employment rights.
Acas does not actively interfere in employment tribunal procedures or communicate directly with judicial authorities. Acas may only be summoned whenever the parties wish to enter conciliation talks.