Why does conflict happen?

Conflict is an inherent part of the employment relationship because organisations are dynamic and complex and under ever-increasing pressure to be more productive or to deliver higher- quality services to clients. They are also made up of people with increasingly diverse backgrounds, opinions, values and expectations about work.

A certain degree of healthy conflict can be a good thing, and can even help to create innovation within teams, but the tension can lead to discord and start to create negative conflict. It is when an initial disagreement is 'pushed under the carpet’ and not managed properly that the situation can fester and conflict spiral.

Line managers typically have to play multiple roles in todays workplace and many shy away from having those ‘difficult’ conversations with staff, particularly if they lack the skills or training to handle complex situations that have become personalised.

What is the Early Conciliation service?

The new Acas Early Conciliation service started on 6 April 2014 and is a free, fast and less stressful alternative to an employment tribunal for resolving workplace disputes. If anyone is thinking about making an employment tribunal claim, they will need to contact Acas first. Acas will then try to resolve the dispute quickly and cost-effectively by offering to conciliate between parties.

Acas will contact the potential claimant within two working days and will gather basic information on the dispute itself and provide information about early conciliation. The case will then be passed on to a conciliator who will aim to make contact with both parties and talk through the issues to see if a solution can be found.

Early conciliation has a number of benefits:

•    It will save the time, cost and anxiety of facing an employment tribunal.

•    Conciliators will help everyone to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the case and ways of resolving it.

•    It gives people an additional month to attempt to resolve the dispute before they hit the deadline for making a tribunal claim.

•    It is confidential – nothing will be passed on to anyone else unless there is an agreement.

•    It is voluntary – both parties must agree to take part before the process can start, and either can change their mind at any time.

•    It is not an ‘either/or’ option – if an agreement cannot be reached, the case can still proceed to a tribunal, but Acas will continue to offer support to try to find a resolution until the tribunal hearing.

What does going to an employment tribunal involve?

Employment tribunals make decisions about employment disputes including cases about unfair dismissal, redundancy and discrimination. There are usually three members of the tribunal who will decide on the case: an employment judge who will run the proceedings, a person representing the employer’s organisation and a person representing the employee’s organisation.

The tribunal is conducted in a formal manner akin to a court but it is slightly less formal as nobody wears wigs or gowns. Evidence is taken under oath and there are rules about what happens and who speaks when.

Most hearings are open to the public and it can be useful to observe a hearing to get a feel for what it might be like.

When can Acas get involved?

•   Acas can get involved as soon as there is a complaint about employment rights, even if there is no complaint to an employment tribunal. A claimant can do this by completing an Early Conciliation notification form on the Acas website www.acas.org.uk/earlyconciliation or they can discuss their options by calling 0300 123 11 22. An employer is also able to use this service where there is a workplace dispute which is likely to result in tribunal proceedings.
•    If someone makes a complaint to an employment tribunal, the tribunal will send copies of the papers to Acas and they will contact both sides to offer conciliation. If you are involved in a tribunal case, you can contact your conciliator by telephoning the number given in the introductory letter from Acas.

Why choose conciliation?

There are several reasons to choose conciliation:
•    you can get a clearer idea about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and ways of resolving it

•    you can avoid the time, expense, risk and stress of going to a hearing

:•    any settlement will be on terms agreed by those involved and not imposed by a tribunal

•    everything can be kept confidential – tribunal hearings are public

•    the settlement can include things not available at tribunals, such as a reference.

What will the conciliator do?

The conciliator will talk through the issues with both sides to see if a solution can be found. Where appropriate, they will also:

•  explain the conciliation process

•  explain the way tribunals operate, and what issues they will take into account in deciding the case

•  discuss the options available, which include arbitration, where appropriate

•  help both sides to understand how the other side views the case, and explore how the case might be resolved without a hearing

•  inform both sides about any proposals the other side has for a settlement.

The conciliator will not:

•   make a judgement on the case or the likely outcome of a hearing

•   advise whether or not to accept any proposals for settlement

•   act as a representative, take sides, or help to prepare a case.

What happens if a complaint is settled through Acas?

If the complaint is settled through Acas, the agreement will be legally binding. Although agreements do not have to be in writing to be legally binding, the terms of the agreement will be recorded on an Acas form which must be signed by both sides as proof of the agreement. Acas- brokered settlements in ‘short period’ cases are restricted to the matter(s) set out in the original tribunal claim.

If a complaint has been made to a tribunal, Acas will notify the tribunal office that a settlement has been agreed by means of conciliation and they will then close the case.

What happens if an agreement cannot be reached?

If an agreement cannot be reached and the complaint is not withdrawn, it will be decided by a tribunal. If the claim is of unfair dismissal, or is made under the flexible working regulations, it can be decided by an arbitrator if both sides prefer.

If a representative is appointed to act for or on behalf of either side, Acas will conciliate through them and the representative may agree a settlement. Since such a settlement would be legally binding, it is important to ensure that the representative fully understands what the person requires from the process.

Will talking to Acas affect the tribunal process?

No. It is important to comply with all instructions from the tribunal because they will continue to process the case while conciliation is taking place and will list the case for a hearing unless they hear that it has been settled or withdrawn. Conciliation is completely separate from the tribunal process, 

For further support with this or any other HR issue, BVNA
members can call the BVNA Members Advisory Service Helpline on 01822 870270.


Nicky Ackerley BA(Hons)

HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley. Nicky has a BA(Hons) in Business Studies, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and has been a practising HR manager for more than 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA Members Advisory Service (formerly known as the Industrial Relations Service) since it began in 2002.

• VOL 29 • July 2014 • Veterinary Nursing Journal