ACAS updates their guidance on who can accompany workers to a disciplinary meeting

The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures has been revised to clarify who can accompany a worker to a disciplinary or grievance meeting.  The revised Code is currently awaiting parliamentary approval.

The changes have been made to bring the Code in line with the EAT’s decision in Toal v GB Oils.  In that case, the EAT held that workers have the right to be accompanied at these meetings by a companion as long as they are from one of the categories listed in the legislation.  These are trade union officials, certified union representatives and fellow workers.  Previously, it had been assumed that whether a request was ‘reasonable’ or not did not depend only on the category of the companion.  Factors such as the potential for a companion to prejudice the meeting or involve a conflict of interest were thought to be relevant.  The Code also allowed an employer to consider whether it was reasonable for a worker to choose a companion from a remote geographical location where someone suitable and willing was available on site. 
Employers will now need to review their Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures to ensure that they are in line with the revised Code.  The key points to note are:
  1. Employers must agree to a worker’s request to be accompanied by a companion from one of the listed categories. 
  2. It is a matter of good practice (but not a legal requirement) for the worker to bear in mind the practicalities of the arrangements.  For example, a worker may choose a companion from the same site rather than a colleague from a remote location.
  3. The worker’s request does not have to be in writing or made within a set time frame, but the worker should give the employer advance notice of the name of the companion and where possible which category they come from.
This may not be the end of changes to the Code as ACAS have been asked by BIS to undertake a wider consultation on the Code.

Petra Venton