The EAT has recently given guidance on how the Acas Early Conciliation process can affect a claimant’s deadline for raising a claim. Early Conciliation was introduced in April 2014 and means that a claimant must try to resolve their dispute with their employer before raising a claim.
Time limits for raising claims in the ET are tight; three months (less one day) in most cases. A claimant must contact Acas within this deadline or their claim will be time-barred. Once they have contacted Acas, the clock stops on their deadline and they have up to a month to try conciliation. The EC period can be extended with the agreement of both parties. If that is not successful, the claimant is given an EC certificate to allow them to lodge a claim and the clock on their deadline starts ticking again.
So far, so simple. However, if the claimant starts EC in the last month of their normal time limit period, their deadline will automatically be extended by a further month at the end of the EC period. The question before the EAT in Tanveer v East London Bus & Coach Company Ltd, was: is the extension period for one month or one month less one day?
The reason for the confusion is that the legislation governing time limits in employment claims is worded such that the deadline is three months (or the appropriate period) less one day from the incident giving rise to the claim. However, the EC legislation is not worded in the same way. It is not clear whether the extension operates in the same way as other employment time limits (ie. one month less one day) or whether the extension is one calendar month.
The EAT has clarified that the correct method is to count one calendar month from the EC certificate date, using what is known as the “corresponding date” rule. This means that, in a claim where the automatic extension applies, if an EC certificate is issued on 1st May the claim must be lodged on or before 1st June.
While it may not sound like much, a day is a long time in ET claims. Time limits are strictly enforced and delays are only permitted in certain narrow circumstances. This judgment gives some much needed clarification for both employers and employees watching the clock for tribunal claims.