Companions in Disciplinary and Grievance Meetings
The Right to be Accompanied
The statutory right to be accompanied by a companion only applies where a worker is required or invited to attend a disciplinary or grievance hearing and reasonably requests to be accompanied at the hearing.
A “disciplinary hearing” is defined as a hearing which could result in:
- The administration of a formal warning to a worker by his employer.
- The taking of some other action in respect of a worker by his employer.
- The confirmation of a warning given or some other action taken.Employers must permit an employee to be accompanied by a single companion of their choice, who must be either a trade union representative or work colleague. Employers might consider allowing a personal friend or family member to accompany the employee if this is reasonable in the circumstances. (Employment Relations Act 1999, section 10, The right to be accompanied).
Benefits of a Companion
- A companion may be able to help an investigator manage the process more effectively by explaining steps being taken to the employee.
- English may not be the employee’s first language and a companion may be in a position to help facilitate the discussion.
- Being accompanied can make the employee feel more comfortable and more willing to talk openly about the matter.
- It can increase staff confidence in a credible process, and therefore may reduce the potential for appeal against any decision that follows.
Role & Responsibilities of Companions
When accompanying an employee at a grievance or disciplinary hearing, the companion is permitted to confer with the worker and address the hearing. However, legislation does not provide a right for a companion to answer questions or attend a hearing on the employee’s behalf.
Consultation meetings during redundancy
Following the EAT’s decisions in Heathmill Multimedia ASP Ltd v Jones and another and Taskforce (Finishing & Handling) Ltd v Love, it would appear that for the purposes of the statutory right to be accompanied, “disciplinary hearings” do not include consultation meetings during a redundancy exercise. Nevertheless, it is good practice for employers to allow employees to be accompanied at such meetings. Failure to do so may in some circumstances lead to a risk of the dismissal being unfair.
Acas have also published guidance for employers on ‘conducting workplace investigations’.
If you require further advice on the right to be accompanied by a companion when conducting a hearing or you wish us to conduct a hearing on your behalf, please contact 01494 817193 or email us.