The ACAS code of Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures was recently revised to provide clarification on the right of a worker to be accompanied at a grievance or disciplinary hearing.
The code previously specified that where the worker wished to assert this statutory right, that the worker had to make a reasonable request. There was therefore uncertainty as to whether the request to be accompanied had to be reasonable, or whether the choice of companion had to be reasonable, and many employers interpreted this to mean that they had the right to object to a companion on the basis that the choice of companion was unreasonable.
The recent case of Toal and another v GB Oils clarified that it is the making of the request which must be reasonable. Therefore, an employer must agree to a worker’s request to be accompanied where the companion is a fellow worker, trade union representative or official. There is no requirement for the choice of companion to be reasonable, provided that they fall into one of the specified categories.
The worker will be required to provide the name of the companion and state whether they are a worker, trade union representative or official in advance of the hearing, however there is no requirement for this request to be writing, nor is there a prescribed timeframe. Moreover, they will be allowed to change their mind on their choice of companion, however must give the employer sufficient time to arrange for the chosen companion to attend.
The code is awaiting parliamentary approval.