Disciplinary hearings can be almost as uncomfortable for the manager as for the staff member who’s the subject of the meeting.

The manager conducting the meeting often has someone supporting them, such as a representative from HR. And the worker may also be able to bring in a companion to accompany them too.

Let us explore when workers are allowed to be accompanied and the role of the companion during the disciplinary procedure.

Investigation meetings

It’s worth noting that workers do not have a legal right to be accompanied in an investigation meeting.

However, some employers do allow them to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative. For example, if an employee’s first language is not English or they are very young, you may believe it is appropriate for the employee to have a companion.

Disciplinary and appeal meetings

Workers do have the right to be accompanied by a fellow worker or trade union official to all meetings that may result in disciplinary sanctions. Disciplinary sanctions could range from a written warning, final warning, dismissal or other types of action short of dismissal e.g. demotion. This includes disciplinary hearings and appeal hearings.

When you notify an employee of an impending disciplinary hearing, you should advise them of their right to be accompanied.

To exercise this right, workers need to make a reasonable request. Unfortunately, there is no specific definition of “reasonable”, therefore it will depend on the merits of the individual cases. You should also note that there is not a particular way that requests must be submitted or a specific deadline to do so.

Requests to postpone meetings

If the worker’s companion is unable to attend the disciplinary meeting, the employee can ask for the meeting to be postponed up to 5 working days.

Role of companions

According to the ACAS Code of Practice, the companion should be permitted to address the hearing, sum up the worker’s case or speak with the worker, but they don’t have the right to answer questions on the employee’s behalf, address the hearing if the employee does not wish them to or stop the employer from putting forward their case. Essentially, the companion cannot take over the whole meeting and treat it as if it was their case.

Failure to exercise right

If a worker is refused the right to be accompanied, they can submit a claim at an Employment Tribunal and could be awarded up to two weeks’ pay for the refusal.

They also have the right to not to be subjected to any form of detriment by their employer for exercising or trying to exercise their right to be accompanied.

To discuss this topic further, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can guide you through disciplinary procedures.

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