Rights & Responsibilities of Companions
All staff that are required or invited to attend a disciplinary or grievance hearing should be given the right to be accompanied at the formal meetings; the right is established in section 10 of the Employment Relations Act 1999. In most cases, the companion should be someone from or associated with the workplace – a colleague or a representative/official of a trade union – even if the trade union is not recognised by the employer. There are a few exceptions to this, discussed below. Subject to this, it is at the discretion of the employer if they permit a companion to be someone from outside the employment: a spouse, partner, carer, or friend.
Permitting companions of this nature can be a sensible policy for employers, as their presence may help put the employee at ease, and assist you in getting to the facts of the matter under consideration, but it is not a legal requirement, and larger employers should rarely find this necessary as there should be a colleague available within the workplace that will meet the needs.
Whether they are accompanied, and by whom, is the decision of the employee, and a companion should never be imposed on an employee without their consent.
Role & Responsibilities of Companions
Employers should ensure that companions can:
- address the meeting, and put the employee’s case on behalf of the employee;
- sum up the worker’s case;
- respond on the worker’s behalf to any view expressed at the hearing;
- sum up on behalf of the employee at the end of the meeting;
but unless permitted by the employer, companions are not entitled to:
- answers any questions put to the employee – these should be answered by the employee, although companions may care to add to any response given;
- participate in any way that the employee has indicated they don’t wish for them to do – such as speak when the employee clearly doesn’t want them to;
- disrupt the meeting or its progress.
Any companion allowed to accompany an employee should normally only be someone within the company; there are now rare occasions (such as a doctor facing misconduct charges that might prevent them from being able to work in the future) when an employee can bring in a more qualified & external companion (such as a solicitor), but these instances remain extremely rare, and should not be permitted in normal cases. For more advice about whether a companion should be permitted, contact Employment Law Clinic.
The conduct of any companion may be considered as part of their normal duties, so blatantly disruptive or inappropriate behaviour should attract any appropriate action against the companion as an employee in their own right. (For trade union representatives, there are extra steps that need to be taken to ensure the employer could not be seen to be attacking the legitimate role of the trade union.)
Reasonable time should be permitted for employees to consult with their companions both before & during any interview or meeting. There is no harm in allowing the two to leave the workplace to discuss the meeting over a coffee in the hour before a meeting, and this may also allow them to become composed – sitting at a desk, waiting for a meeting is not the most pleasant or efficient way for anyone to prepare. In some instances, this right could be open to abuse, so where excessive time is being requested, this should always be challenged.
Any letter inviting an employee to a disciplinary meeting (either an interview (fact-finding) or disciplinary hearing (to answer a charge) should cover the basic points & obligations of a companion – something like:
‘You can bring companion – a colleague or friend from within the company – with you to this meeting, although they will need to understand that they:
- must not answer questions directly put to you, although they may provide further details where this may support or assist the answers you provide;
- may support you, and consult with you (in private if necessary) during the meeting, including before your answers are given – providing this does not disrupt the meeting unreasonably;
- are not allowed to address the meeting when you do not want them to;
- must not disrupt the meeting.’
If you require further advice on companions when conducting a disciplinary or grievance hearing, contact Employment Law Clinic: