Right to be accompanied

02 February 2014

Stephen Musgrave, David Samuels

In Roberts v GB Oils, the EAT considered the case of an employee who made a request to be accompanied at a disciplinary hearing  by a trade union official who had been banned by the employer from entering any of the employer’s sites.

Was this a ‘reasonable’ request by the employee? The EAT confirmed that it was.

The relevant law states that the employer must permit the worker to be accompanied at the hearing by a single companion who is chosen by the worker and is either employed by a trade union; is a properly certified trade union official; or is a co-worker. The EAT agreed with the Employment Tribunal that Parliament could easily have required that the choice of companion is 'reasonable'.

Therefore, the actual identity and characteristics of the chosen companion are not relevant. If the employer refuses an employee’s ‘reasonable request’, it may liable to pay compensation not exceeding two weeks’ pay. However, the EAT suggested that in a case like this, where the request was refused on what might otherwise appear to be reasonable grounds, compensation may be reduced to nil.

Points to note:

  • This judgment is contradictory to, and overrides the Acas Code (paragraph 15), which suggests that ‘it would not normally be reasonable for workers to insist on being accompanied by a companion whose presence would prejudice the hearing, nor would it be reasonable for a worker to ask to be accompanied by a companion from a remote geographical location if someone suitable and willing was available on site’
  • So when will it be unreasonable for an employer to refuse a request to be accompanied? The law states that an employee has the right to reasonably request a companion at any disciplinary or grievance hearing.