Gnahoua v Abellio London Ltd (2303661/2015)
A claimant was awarded only £2 in compensation after his employer denied him the right to be accompanied at a disciplinary hearing. The Employment Tribunal held that he did not suffer a detriment in being denied a companion at his disciplinary, despite the fact that his rights were breached by his employer's stance.
Mr Gnahoua was employed as a bus driver for Abellio London Ltd (Abellio). He was summoned to a disciplinary hearing over allegations that he was using an electronic device whilst driving a bus, and that he had failed to carry out procedural checks of the vehicle.
Abellio denied permission for Mr Gnahoua to bring his chosen union representatives with him to the hearing. He had requested to be accompanied by two members of the Public Transport Service Corporation union, the first of whom was a former employee of Abellio and had brought a claim for unfair dismissal against his employer; the second, his brother, had represented the first in Tribunal proceedings. Their case was struck out on the basis of vexatious conduct and attempts to obtain compensation by dishonest means. Abellio prohibited both brothers from representing employees at hearings; as such, Mr Gnahoua attended the disciplinary alone.
No criticism was made of Abellio in this case: their interference in Mr Gnahoua's choice of representative was based on strong grounds and their position was held to be understandable. However, the Tribunal held that employees have an unfettered right to choose their companion.
Notwithstanding the finding, the ET declined to make an award of the maximum compensation award for a breach of this right (two weeks' pay) and instead awarded him the nominal compensation of £2, satisfied that he had suffered no loss or detriment.
The eventual award in this case will be heartening for employers, but caution should still be taken in such matters: should a tribunal find that a fair procedure was not carried out during a disciplinary process, the employer could face an uplift of 25% of an award.