Know your employment rights: the right to be accompanied

When attending a disciplinary or grievance hearing or an appeal meeting, you have a legal right to bring to the meeting either a trade union representative or a colleague to accompany you. 

To be able to exercise the right, you must make a ‘reasonable request’ to your employer.  What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances.  It used to be the case that an employer could say it was unreasonable, for example, for a worker to ask for a colleague who worked at a different office to accompany them if a colleague was available at their own office.  However, it has since been clarified that provided the employee’s request is reasonable (such as providing sufficient information and time to allow with the employer to deal with the practicalities of the companion’s attendance at the hearing) then they should be allowed freedom to choose whichever trade union representative or colleague they like.

If your chosen companion isn’t available for the hearing date, you should inform your employer as soon as possible.  The employer should postpone the hearing for up to five days to a date and time when your companion can attend.  You can also alter your choice of companion if you wish.

During the meeting itself, your companion can’t take over and run your case for you if you don’t want them to, but with your permission they can put forward your case, sum up, respond on your behalf and confer with you. 

Whilst the legal right to be accompanied is limited to a trade union representative or a colleague, there may be occasions when this can be extended.  Check your contract and handbook to see what it says about the disciplinary and grievance process as it may allow you to also be accompanied at investigation meetings or extend it to other categories of people who can accompany you.  It may also be appropriate for an employer to extend the right to be accompanied depending on the circumstances, for example in cases where the employee has a disability or where the allegations are serious enough that they could be career-ending.

As well as checking your handbook and contract, have a look at the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures (available on the ACAS website: www.acas.org.uk).  Whilst the ACAS Code is not law, it is a best practice guide and employment tribunals will look at whether the employer has complied with the ACAS Code if the employee subsequently brings a claim.

If you have been dismissed or resigned and would like advice about potential employment claims, we are happy to help.  Send your query to employmentclaims@smithpartnership.co.uk