Yesterday I got someone their job back. How many people have a job as rewarding as that? As an Acas Conciliator I’m allocated a case load of disputes between individuals and their employers. Some of them come in early, before a claim has actually been made to an Employment Tribunal, I have a month to try and help the parties resolve these disputes through our Early Conciliation processes. Some come in after a claim has already been lodged at the Employment Tribunal and I have longer to work with both the worker/employee and their employer to try and help them reach an agreement before an Employment Tribunal hearing.
This particular case was an apprentice car mechanic. He had been late arriving at work on a number of occasions, had a row with his boss about it and been told to “clear off”. He had taken this as being told he was being fired. His grandfather was a solicitor and had told him that this was an ‘unfair dismissal’ so he wanted to lodge a claim with the Employment Tribunal, but he had to register his claim with Acas first and get a certificate from us before he could make a claim at the Employment Tribunal.
The apprentice had named his grandfather as his representative, so I spoke to him first to find out what had happened. I explained my role as an impartial third party who may be able to help them resolve the problem without going to an Employment Tribunal. I also advised him that Acas Conciliation is free and confidential. Nothing said to me can be used at an Employment Tribunal. The grandfather told me that his grandson had been late on a number of occasions, however the garage where he was working had been through no formal disciplinary processes before dismissing him. If an employer wants to dismiss someone they should go through a fair and reasonable process as outlined in their own disciplinary and dismissal procedure which should be at least as good as the Acas Code on Discipline and Grievances. Failure to do so can result in a claim for unfair dismissal if the person has at least two years continuous employment with this employer. I checked and the apprentice was on the third year of his apprenticeship.
I then spoke to the owner of the garage, who had no idea what I was talking about. I introduced myself and, my role as a conciliator and explained the situation as it had been described to me. He told me that he now knew what it was about and that he owned two garages, and it had been the manager of one of the garages who had a bit of a temper and had told the apprentice to “clear off” but hadn’t meant permanently, he had just meant until he had calmed down. I explained the potential consequences if the case went to Employment Tribunal and he was keen to try and sort things out.
I spoke to both the grandfather and the garage owner several times, explaining the others position and encouraging them to think outside the box for alternative solutions. The amount that the grandfather was seeking in compensation could have closed the employers business so he was keen to find a solution. I asked the grandfather what his grandson really wanted as a solution, compensation wasn’t going to help him become a mechanic if he couldn’t get another placement locally and this was the only garage he could get to without transport, living in a rural area. Having spoken to his grandson the grandfather realised that his dream was to work on cars and that being a small community, word would get round and he was unlikely to find another apprenticeship if he took his employer to a tribunal.
The solution they found was for the apprentice to be reemployed, but at the second of the employer’s garages so that he wouldn’t have to work with his former manager. Although this was further from home, the garage owner agreed to give him an old car that he could do up and use to get to and from work. The manager also agreed to apologise for losing his temper and the apprentice apologised for his poor timekeeping. I put all of this together in a legally binding written agreement (known as a COT3) and the apprentice went back to work the following week.
One of the most rewarding things about being an Acas Conciliator is making a real difference to hundreds of people every year.
To find out more you can go to www.acas.org.uk/careers.
Kelly Ballisat, Conciliator, Acas East of England