A Government move to encourage early settlement of employment claims before they get to an employment tribunal is in danger of backfiring, claims a leading Midlands' employment lawyer.
Indeed it could result in more work for employment tribunals, according to Tim Lang, partner and head of employment at Black Country law firm George Green.
He says that by putting a time limit on the conciliation period when parties can reach an agreement before they go to tribunal, the Government is actually preventing pretribunal settlements.
"Parties involved in an employment claim now have only a limited time period of three months, and in some cases just seven weeks, from the issuing of proceedings to use the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service to conciliate between them and settle the case prior to tribunal.
"Previously ACAS could get involved at any time right up to the start of the tribunal, and the last couple of days before the tribunal was when most cases were settled, as it actually dawns on both claimants and defendants that they will have to face a hearing."
Mr Lang, who works in George Green's Cradley Heath offices, went on: "The time limit for conciliation of three months, imposed by the Government in October, now tends to runs out well in advance of the hearing date and therefore makes pretribunal settlements less likely, as ACAS cannot get involved beyond the three month period.
"The only way a binding pre-tribunal settlement can then be achieved is to have solicitors draw up an agreement.
"As a result, we are starting to see cases which should have been settled previously come to tribunal."
Employment tribunal cases are sent automatically to ACAS with a brief for the organisation to conciliate between the two parties to try to reach a settlement.
"There was no incentive to parties to settle early, so most settlements happened just before the tribunal," said Mr Lang. "But the attempt to provide that incentive has back-fired, as there has been a noticeable drop off in the number of ACAS-conciliated settlements.
"Many employers involved in cases going to tribunal are aware of the three month cut off date. I have been advising one employer who did not approach me about the case until the conciliation period was over removing a vital option for him of settling the claim via ACAS."