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Key points

  • Arbitration is where an impartial person makes a decision on a dispute.
  • Acas Arbitration can be used to decide cases of alleged unfair dismissal or claims under the flexible working legislation.
  • Arbitration is often used for collective employment related disputes or it can be used to settle individual disputes.
  • It can be an alternative to a court of law but it is voluntary so both sides must agree to abide by the arbitrator's decision.


Arbitration involves an impartial outsider being asked to make a decision on a dispute. The arbitrator makes a firm decision on a case based on the evidence presented by the parties. Arbitration is voluntary, so both sides must agree to go to arbitration; they should also agree in advance that they will abide by the arbitrator's decision.

Arbitration can be seen as an alternative to a court of law with its rules for procedures such as disclosure of documents, evidence and so on. But arbitration is private rather than public. Unlike a court, in an arbitration hearing the Arbitrator will ask the questions. There is no formal cross-examination or swearing of oaths.

Arbitration is often used in collective employment related disputes. For example, a trade union might be in dispute with an employer over the annual pay rise. The union could agree with the employer to ask Acas to appoint an independent arbitrator from our panel of arbitrators to hear the two sides' cases and then make an independent and impartial decision.

Arbitration can also be used to settle individual disputes. For example, an individual and an employer might decide to go to arbitration to avoid the stress and expense of an Employment Tribunal. However, as with any workplace dispute, it is important to make use of all internal procedures to resolve the issue in question, before proceeding, via Acas conciliation, to arbitration.

Hearings will normally last about half a day, although the arbitrator has power to adjourn if necessary. The arbitrator can also call a preliminary hearing in extreme cases. This is where the arbitrator feels that there may be considerable differences between the parties, for example over the provision of documents or the availability of someone called to speak at the hearing.

The Acas Arbitration Scheme can be used to decide cases of alleged unfair dismissal or claims under flexible working legislation (where there are no complex legal issues) without going to a tribunal. Acas was given powers to draw up the Scheme in the Employment Rights (Dispute Resolution) Act 1998. You can get the details in Acas Arbitration Scheme Q&A or contact us at

Read about pdf  'The role of Acas in dispute resolution' [127kb] in a guest article created for the IDS Pay Report 1054 August 2010 by a member of Acas staff.

What is the difference between mediation, conciliation and arbitration?

Acas' former Chief Conciliator Peter Harwood talks about the service.

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