ACAS Code of Practice – the right to be accompanied during disciplinary procedures
You may not be aware that ACAS has published a revision to its code of practice concerning disciplinary and grievance issues in the workplace. The changes relate to the sections around accompanying work colleagues to disciplinary or grievance meetings and came into effect from 11 March 2015.
A judgment made by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Total v GB Oils clarified the rules around reasonable requests to be accompanied at a grievance or disciplinary hearing. It found that workers had the right to be accompanied at these hearings by a companion as long as they were either a trade union official, certified union representative or a fellow worker.
A trade union representative who is not an employed official must have been certified by their union as being competent to accompany a worker.
Employers must agree to a worker’s request to be accompanied by any companion from one of these categories and workers may also alter their choice of companion if they wish.
Employees don’t have to make their request within a specific timeframe. The Code suggests that they should provide their employer with enough time to ‘deal with’ the presence of their companion at the meeting.
The revisions to the Code make it crystal clear that employers cannot reject a worker’s choice of companion because they may find that person’s presence awkward or difficult. However, they can still reject anyone who is not one of the employer’s workers or a trade union official or representative – such as a lawyer or a relative.
In making their choice, workers should bear in mind the practicalities of the arrangements. A worker may choose to be accompanied by a companion who is suitable, willing and available on site rather than someone from a geographically remote location.
If the worker’s chosen companion is not available at the time proposed for the hearing by the employer, the employer must postpone the hearing to a time proposed by the employee, provided that the alternative is both reasonable and not more than five working days after the date originally proposed.