November 28, 2013

Who can accompany workers at tribunals?

Do workers have the right to have anyone accompany them at an employment tribunal?

Well, there is a statutory right for workers to be accompanied at a disciplinary or grievance hearing if they reasonably request this.

But the original ‘Acas Code’ says that “it would not normally be reasonable for workers to insist on being accompanied by a companion whose presence would prejudice the hearing nor would it be reasonable for a worker to ask to be accompanied by a companion from a remote geographical location if someone suitable and willing was available on site”.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case of Toal v GB Oils disagreed with the Acas Code.  The case involved two employees who asked to be accompanied to a grievance hearing with one specific union official.  The employer refused this but the meeting ultimately went ahead with a different union official.

The EAT held that the choice of companion does not have to be reasonable it only has to be a union official or colleague.  The EAT found that the employer had broken the law by refusing the employees their first choice of companion.

Despite this finding, and despite the fact that the remedy for breaching the right to be accompanied is compensation of a maximum of two weeks’ pay, the EAT found that, as the employees had suffered no detriment they should be awarded the nominal sum of £2.

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