For an employee having to worry about being accompanied to a meeting at work usually means trouble.
It can also spell trouble for an employer should it deny the worker that right in certain situations.
Employees have a statutory right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearings and any subsequent appeal meetings (1).
This is covered by the Employment Relations Act 1999 at Section 10 (2). The right also extends to the final meetings in the redundancy consultation and performance and capability processes, which can lead to dismissal.
There may be occasions where an employer is unhappy with an employee’s choice of companion.
As long as the individual falls within one of the categories set out in section 10 - a colleague, work-based trade union representative or an official employed by a trade union - then the request to be accompanied by the selected companion is considered reasonable.
Any request by an employee to be accompanied at a meeting should be carefully considered and judged on its particular merits.
If an employee has a disability or is particularly stressed by the situation, fair consideration should be given to allowing that worker to bring a companion to the meeting with them, irrespective of whether or not formal action may result and the statutory right applies.
In such circumstances rejecting the request can have serious repercussions as it may be found to be a failure to make a reasonable adjustment under the disability discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010 (3), should they come into play.
Workers who have been employed for short period of time lack certain rights (4). However, the statutory right to be accompanied to a formal meeting is effective regardless of length of service.
The support of a companion can be invaluable for an employee at a formal meeting and it is important that the role of the accompanying person is made clear.
Trade union representatives will be fully aware of what they can and cannot do during such meetings, but for employers it is always worth reiterating this at the start of the meeting.
Where a work colleague is the chosen companion that individual should be informed that they can address the meeting, respond on the employee’s behalf to views expressed at the meeting and confer with the employee during the hearing but they are not allowed to answer on the employee’s behalf (5).
Where an employee is informed of allegations against them and invited to attend an investigation meeting, it is not uncommon for that person to argue for the right to be accompanied due to the fact it appears to be a formal meeting.
There is not statutory right to be accompanied at an investigation or fact finding meeting as they are often referred to (6).
However, allowing the employee to be accompanied at an investigation meeting can give the process credibility and some disciplinary policies will allow it, so it is advisable to review the disciplinary policy prior to the meeting.
Performance management and capability meetings are understandably worrying and stressful for any worker invited to attend one.
The relevant policy will set out the procedure to be followed, which will usually be a number of meetings and warnings before dismissal is considered. It is good practice, although not a statutory requirement, to allow the employee to be accompanied at all stages of the process and not just the final meeting when dismissal is being considered.
The prospect of redundancy can also be disturbing for employees, and again it is good practice to allow workers to be accompanied at all consultation meetings throughout the process.
1. Discipline and grievance hearing | Acas advice and guidance [Internet]. 2008 [cited 2018 Apr 10]. Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1874
2. Participation E. Employment Relations Act 1999 [Internet]. [cited 2018 Apr 9]. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1999/26/section/10
3. Participation E. Equality Act 2010 [Internet]. [cited 2018 Apr 10]. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/20
4. When Your Rights Start | workSMART [Internet]. [cited 2018 Apr 10]. Available from: https://worksmart.org.uk/work-rights/basics/when-your-rights-start
5. Chief D. Right to be accompanied [Internet]. TUC. 2011 [cited 2018 Apr 10]. Available from: https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/right-be-accompanied
6. Are employees allowed to be accompanied to investigation interviews? 2016 Feb 5 [cited 2018 Apr 10]; Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5613