What is the ACAS Code?

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What is the ACAS Code?

ACAS, otherwise known as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, is a Crown non-departmental public body of the United Kingdom’s Government. It serves the purpose of improving work-life across organisations by promoting and facilitating strong industrial relations practice.

ACAS strives to achieve this through various media like arbitration and mediation. Above all, ACAS serves to provide collective conciliation function, which helps to resolve disputes between groups of employees or workers (often represented by a trade union) and their employers.

While, ACAS help the involved parties to reach suitable resolutions in case of a dispute, overall, it is an independent and impartial body that does not side with any particular party.

Introduced to further strengthen the Employment Protection Act 1975, ACAS became a household name during the late 1970s and mid-80s when large-scale industrial disputes were quite common. With time, its emphasis has shifted towards aiding businesses to prevent problems especially related to their workforce.

Furthermore, ACAS helps address individual complaints (wherein individuals complain against their employers regarding wrongful dismissal or any other issue) and provide the groundwork for making an employment tribunal claim.

The ACAS Code of Practice

The ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures provides the primary practical guidelines to employees, their representatives, and employers, and lays down the groundwork for handling workplace-related issues and disputes.

While the Code is not legally enforceable and non-compliance to it doesn’t make an organisation or individual liable to legal proceedings, the employment tribunal will take the Code into account when dealing with relevant cases.

Furthermore, the Code does not apply to dismissals due to non‑renewal of fixed-term contracts and redundancy.

The ACAS Code of Practice is issued under the section 199 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 and was presented before the two Houses of Parliament on 16th January 2015.

The Code that we currently have, came into effect on 11th March 2015 by the orders of the Secretary of State and has replaced the version issued in 2009.

The ACAS Guide ‘Handling small-scale redundancies – a step-by-step guide’ and its advisory booklet ‘How to manage large-scale redundancies’ contain practical guidelines on handling redundancies.

Any failure to abide by the Code does not, in itself, make an employer or organisation liable to legal proceedings. However, it holds relevance in front of an employment tribunal, which may take it into account when considering relevant claims and use to adjust the awarded compensation by up to 25 percent in case of unreasonable failure to comply with the Code’s provisions.

This implies that if the employment tribunal finds that an employer has deliberately or unreasonably failed to follow the Code while investigating cases of gross misconduct or any such issues, they hold the jurisdiction to increase any award by as much as 25 percent.

On the other hand, if the tribunal feel that an employee has been unreasonable in making the claim against wrongful dismissal, or failed to follow the guidance provided in the Code, the award may be reduced by up to 25 percent.

Key Points in the ACAS Code of Practice 2015

First and foremost, the ACAS Code of Practice helps informally resolve a number of potential disciplinary and grievance issues related to a workplace. Cases of one-off incidents of misconduct or unsatisfactory performance are usually dealt in an informal manner with the help of the Code.

Having said this, Employment Tribunals in the UK are legally bound to consider the ACAS Code into account when dealing with claims. This, in turn, helps the tribunals to adjust any awards by up to 25 percent for an unreasonable failure to comply with the provisions set out in the code.

In case, there arises a need to take some formal action, the tribunal chooses the action, which is reasonable or justified according to the circumstances of the particular case and the ACAS Code. Subsequently, the Employers are required to deal with the issues promptly, consistently and fairly by conducting investigations to gather and establish relevant facts of the case.

The revised Code of Practice became effective on 11 March 2015 and contains revisions specifically related to the right of accompaniment at grievance and disciplinary hearings. No other section of the Code has been revised. Below are some key points of the Revised Code:

Here are the key points

1. Disciplinary situations can include misconduct and/or poor performance. The employers may choose to have a separate capability procedure if they wish to address an employee’s performance issues. If so, however, they still need to follow the basic principles of fairness as laid down in the Code (although some adaptations are permitted in this case).

2. Grievances can be concerns, complaints or problems that employees raise with their employers. However, the Code does not apply to the non-renewal of fixed-term contracts once they expire and redundancy dismissals.

The Code promotes transparency and fairness through the development and usage of rules and procedures to handle grievance and disciplinary situations. These procedures should be set down in writing and be specific. Furthermore, both employees and their representatives (where appropriate) must be involved while developing the rules.

In cases, wherein a formal action is required, the employment tribunal will decide the appropriate course after taking into account the resources and size of the employer. This is done because it may not be practicable for all employers to undertake all of the steps set out in the Code, and the onus lies with the tribunal to make sure that a reasonable and justified grievance redressal mechanism was employed.