From 27 January 2020, those who wish to lodge a claim with the Industrial or Fair Employment Tribunal will, in most cases, first have to notify the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) and discuss the option of Early Conciliation. Potential claimants will not be able to proceed to tribunal without at least considering this option and securing an Early Conciliation Certificate from the LRA, a prerequisite before being able to progress with a tribunal claim.
Where potential claimants make contact with the LRA but then decide not to avail of Early Conciliation or if the process does not achieve a settlement, an Early Conciliation Certificate will be issued by the LRA. Claimants lodging a tribunal claim must be able to provide the Early Conciliation Certificate number in order for a tribunal to let the claim proceed.
Tribunal claims usually have to be presented within three or six months of the alleged unlawful act, depending on the type of claim. However, when the Early Conciliation process is triggered, the clock, for time limits purposes, may be stopped for a short period of time usually for one calendar month to facilitate conciliation, in effect providing a prospective claimant with an extension of time within which to lodge a tribunal claim in most jurisdictions. However, the rules in this regard are not straightforward and a prospective claimant is advised not to rely on possible Early Conciliation extensions of time when lodging tribunal claims, rather it is safest to rely only on the three months/six months ‘standard’ time limits referred to above when lodging a claim with a tribunal to avoid their claims becoming ‘time-barred’ and unable to proceed.
Face to face assistance with the process, including form filling is available at the LRA offices. Alternatively, ‘hard’ copies are downloadable and can be filled in by hand and posted to the LRA. Legal or trade union representatives can also do this on the individual’s behalf.
Once the Early Conciliation process is triggered, the LRA will contact the prospective claimant/their representative usually within five working days. They will explain how the process works and, with the individual’s consent, will contact the other party to ask if the parties are interested in Early Conciliation. If both parties agree, the LRA will attempt to resolve the matter in a fashion acceptable to everyone and the settlement will be legally binding. If parties cannot agree a settlement, the LRA will then issue an Early Conciliation Certificate which individuals will need if they decide to proceed to tribunal.
There are a small number of exemptions where individuals can go straight to tribunal if they wish and further information in this regard is available from the LRA.
If you require advice on your rights at work, make contact with your local trade union representative who can, if necessary, seek advice from Thompsons NI who are ranked by Chambers legal directory at Band 1 for employment and personal injury work.