There are often queries regarding when companions can come to disciplinary or grievance meetings and when not. The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures that came into place on 6 April 2009 has incorporated the existing statutory right to be accompanied to such meetings with the circumstances in which this can occur.
Who can be accompanied and to what?
The statutory accompaniment right extends to workers as well as employees. If workers are invited to or required to attend a disciplinary or grievance hearing, or an appeal meeting, then they maintain this right.
Is that an absolute right?
No. Requests for companions must be within reason. The ACAS Code implies that a companion who would prejudice the hearing, or a companion from a remote geographical location would be an unreasonable request if a suitable and willing alternative person could be found.
What qualifies as a disciplinary hearing?
A ‘disciplinary hearing’ in this situation is described as a hearing that could end with a formal warning or another action, or perhaps conformation of one of these. Informal meetings that may result in informal warnings are arguably not covered.
Do investigatory meetings qualify?
Not usually, since investigatory meetings are not expected to result in a warning. Although the ACAS Code states that workers may be allowed to bring accompaniment to investigatory hearings, it is not a requirement, nor a recommendation for good practice.
When are complaints sufficiently serious to allow a ‘companion’?
A complaint must be about the employer’s performance of a duty related to a worker, or a lack of such. Complaints over the turning down of a pay rise request, for example, would not be marked as a grievance if a pay review is not a contractual right of the worker. In contrast, a complaint about the working environment potentially breaches health and safety responsibilities and therefore would be sufficient.
What types of companions are permitted?
Only one companion is allowed. Companions may be full-time trade union officials - regardless of whether or not the union is recognised - colleagues, or trade union lay officials with written certification of their experience or training in disciplinary or grievance work.
Can friends or lawyers attend instead?
Employees are, in statutory terms, only entitled to the types of companions listed above. Therefore, unless the procedures of the employer provide otherwise, or the subject is particularly sensitive to cause a relaxation in the legislation, employers have the right to refuse requests for friends or lawyers as representatives.
What is the role of the companion?
The ACAS Code claims that companions have the right to address the hearing, put forward and sum up a worker’s case, confer with the worker, and respond on behalf of them to any views that are expressed. Companions don’t have the right, however, to address the hearing if the worker doesn’t want them to, to answer questions on behalf of the worker, or prevent the employer from putting forward their case.
What happens if the companion is unavailable?
If a companion becomes unavailable but is available for an alternative time, then the employer must postpone the meeting to the proposed time. However, the alternative time must be convenient for everyone, and be within five working days of the original meeting date.
What penalties are given for failure to comply?
Up to 2 weeks’ pay can be awarded by an employment tribunal to a worker if an employer breaches their statutory right for accompaniment. Failing to comply is also a breach of the ACAS Code, which could lead to a potential increase in the compensation of up to 25%.