Revised Acas Code Dealing with Right to be Accompanied
Acas has published its revised code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures which contains amended sections dealing with the right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearings.
The changes have been made following the decision in Toal v GB Oils where the Employment Tribunal ruled that an employer cannot restrict an employee's choice of companion. So long as the companion falls within one of the statutory categories i.e.the companion is a fellow worker, a trade union representative or a trade union official, they have the right to be accompanied by that person. Although workers only have the right to be accompanied where they make a reasonable request, the employee's choice of companion has no bearing on whether a request is reasonable.
The current version of the Acas code states that it would not normally be reasonable for workers to insist on being accompanied by a companion whose presence would prejudice the meeting or who is from a remote location, This suggests that an employer would be able to refuse such a request as the request would not be considered reasonable.
The revised code makes it clear that employers must agree to a worker's request to be accompanied by any chosen companion from one of the statutory categories. However, it does urge workers as a matter of good practice to consider the practicalities of the arrangements and suggests 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.
On the issue of the reasonableness of a request, the revised Code indicates that a worker should provide the name of the companion where possible and the category from which they are drawn (fellow worker, a trade union representative or a trade union official) and give the employer enough time to deal with the companion's attendance at the meeting. The Code makes it clear that a request to be accompanied does not have to be in writing or within a certain time frame.
Acas has also taken the opportunity to explain the legal provisions relating to companions who cannot attend a hearing on the date originally set.
The revised Code is subject to parliamentary approval and can be viewed here.
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