The right to be accompanied arises under s.10(1)(a) and (b) of the Employment Relations Act 1999 when a worker or employee who is invited by his or her employer to attend a disciplinary or grievance hearing makes a reasonable request for a companion to attend the hearing. The “companion” is defined in law as a co-worker or an accredited trade union officer.
This guide examines your legal obligations in relation to an employee’s right to be accompanied by a companion to a hearing .
1. What is the role of the companion during a hearing? The companion can address the hearing to put the employee’s case, sum up the case and/or respond on the employee’s behalf to any view expressed at the hearing. The companion is precluded from answering questions on behalf of the employee.
2. Can an employee bring along a friend, relative or solicitor as their companion? There is no right to do this, unless your own procedures state otherwise.
3. Can an employee be accompanied by a trade union official who is not an employee of your company? Yes. An employee has the right to be accompanied by a trade union official irrespective of whether or not the official is an employee of your organisation, and whether or not you recognise the union in question.
4. Are employees permitted to bring a companion to an investigatory meeting? Purely investigatory meetings are not covered by the right to be accompanied.
5. Can an employee refuse to be a companion? Yes, there is no obligation on the chosen companion to agree to carry out the role.
6. What are the options if a companion is not available to attend on the date of the hearing? In such circumstances the employee is permitted to propose an alternative time that is both reasonable and within five working days of the original hearing. There is no legal obligation to postpone the meeting further if the companion still cannot attend.
It’s worth noting that a breach of the statutory right to be accompanied may result in a claim being brought to an employment tribunal which, if proven, could result in an increase of up to 25% of any compensation awarded. It is therefore always advisable to seek professional guidance, if in doubt.