Parliament has approved amendments to the new Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures which came into force on 11 March 2015.
The Employment Relations Act 1999 (ERelA) states that workers attending formal disciplinary or grievance meetings may make a reasonable request to be accompanied at the hearing by a fellow worker, trade union representative or official.
The new Code clarifies that the reference to a “reasonable” request applies to the making of the request not to the worker's choice of companion. As such, a request made five minutes before a meeting for accompaniment by a companion located 250 miles away probably would not be reasonable. However, as long as the request is made reasonably, there is nothing stopping an employee from choosing any companion from the three statutory categories. Therefore, it appears there is little an employer can do to prevent a particularly difficult or disruptive companion attending a meeting where a request is made reasonably. However, the ERelA does limit the scope of a companion’s involvement in a meeting. The new Code also confirms that a worker may change their chosen companion if they wish.
Acas has also amended its non-statutory guidance booklet to reflect what has been best practice for some time. The guidance now confirms that employers may allow workers to be accompanied by companions who do not fall within one of the three statutory categories. The guidance goes on to say that the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers may even require this. For example, it may be reasonable for a vulnerable adult to be accompanied by a parent or a support worker.