The employer in Toal v GB Oils Ltd refused (for reasons that are not clear) to allow an employee to be accompanied to a grievance and subsequent appeal hearing by a trade union official who was certified in writing as having experience of acting as a worker's companion.  The question was whether the employee's statutory rights had been infringed.

The legislation says that the employee can choose a companion as long as certain requirements as to the identity of the companion are fulfilled (they must be an employee, a union official or certified by the union as having experience or training in acting as a companion).  As long as those requirements are fulfilled, according to the EAT there is no further condition that the choice of companion be "reasonable".

Although the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures suggests that there may be circumstances in which it will not be "reasonable" to request a particular companion (for example, the Code says it would not normally be reasonable for workers to insist on being accompanied by a companion whose presence would prejudice the hearing) the EAT decided that the legislation was clear and therefore the Code was not relevant in this case.  The employer had breached the employee's rights by refusing to allow him to be accompanied by the employee of his choice.

The sting in the tale for the employee was the EAT's comment that the statute does not contain a fixed penalty and that where the employee could not point to any loss or detriment arising from the employer's breach (as will typically be the case), the correct approach would be to award nominal compensation – in the region of £2.  The decision therefore seems pretty unlikely to open the floodgates for claims!