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Trade union representation for non-members

Published 06 January 2020

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Trade union representation

Help when you need somebody - and not just anybody - for a disciplinary hearing

The words from a well-known Beatles song probably best sum up how some employees may feel when in serious trouble at work and in desperate need of help.

It was the Fab Four from Liverpool who famously sang: Help, I need somebody, Help, not just anybody. Help, you know I need someone, help. (1)

Such a frantic plea is likely to come from a non-trade union member facing disciplinary action and the threat of dismissal at work.

It’s in such circumstances that the best help available does not just come from anybody, but in the form of a trade union representative (Rep). (2)

If you are a member of a trade union, and a increasing number of employees are, getting help in such a situation should be straightforward.

The number of employees signing up to become union members is on the increase. Most recent figures show that between 2017 and 2018, the number of trade union members rose by over 100,000 to 6.35 million. (3)

An established paid up trade union member, who has been paying the membership fee for over a specified period of time, should have no problem in getting a Rep to support them during a disciplinary hearing.

For panic-stricken non-trade union members, however, facing disciplinary action and not knowing where to turn for help, or where to find it, can be worrying and frightening.

An employee may find themselves in this position at any time. It can be for an innocent reason such as a genuine mistake, the result of a misunderstanding, or because of victimisation or for doing something wrong.

Regardless of the reason trade union help with disciplinary matters can be invaluable. Employees have a statutory right to be accompanied by a Rep at a formal disciplinary hearing. This right is contained in Section 10 of the Employment Relations Act 1999 and is supported by the ACAS Code of Practice. (4)

The right to be accompanied applies to any disciplinary hearing, including a capability hearing, which could result in: a formal warning being issued; any other disciplinary action being taken, including a dismissal; and appeal meeting relating to a warning or other disciplinary action.

For an employee the prospect of a disciplinary hearing can be a daunting one. The ramifications should it go against them can be extremely serious. Sanctions can range from formal warnings up to dismissal in the most serious cases.

It is why the help and support of an experienced Rep can be vital in such circumstances. A Rep is a union member who represents and gives advice to colleagues when they have problems at work.

The Rep can play a key role in supporting an employee at a disciplinary hearing and that support can often be pivotal in the individual keeping their job even in cases where they admit wrongdoing.

During a disciplinary hearing a Rep can confer with the employee, put the employee’s case, sum up the case, respond on behalf of the worker to any view expressed at the hearing (5). However, the Rep cannot answer questions put directly to the employee.

Workers may ask an official from any trade union to accompany them at a disciplinary or grievance hearing, regardless of whether or not they are a member or the union is recognised.

The statutory right to be accompanied at a disciplinary hearing means an employee can also be accompanied by a colleague if they cannot engage the support of a Rep.

The right to be accompanied does not extend to investigation or fact-finding meetings, which can be held before a formal disciplinary hearing. However, it is always worth checking an employer’s disciplinary policy as some organisations do allow employees to be accompanied at this stage of the process

If you need the support of a trade union rep for help with a work-related matter contact the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for advice.


(1) The Beatles – [internet] [cited 06.01.2020]

(2) Trade Representation – [Internet] [Cited 06.01.2020]

(3) Union Members – [Internet] [Cited 06.01.2020]

(4) ACAS Code of practice – [Internet] [Cited 06.01.2020]

(5) What the representative can do – [Internet] [Cited 06.01.2020]

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For free employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 


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