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Employment law guide

The right to be accompanied

Workers have a statutory right to be accompanied by a fellow worker or trade union official where they are required or invited by their employer to attend certain disciplinary or grievance hearings and when they make a reasonable request to be so accompanied. This right is additional to any contractual rights. The statutory right to be accompanied applies to all workers, not just employees working under a contract of employment.

The statutory right applies where a worker is required or invited to attend a disciplinary or grievance hearing, and reasonably requests to be accompanied at the hearing.

The statutory right to be accompanied applies specifically to hearings that could result in the administration of a formal warning to a worker by his employer (i.e., a warning, whether about conduct or capability, that will be placed on the worker’s record); the taking of some other action in respect of a worker by his employer (e.g., suspension without pay, demotion or dismissal); or the confirmation of a warning issued or some other action taken.

A worker has a statutory right to be accompanied at a disciplinary or grievance hearing by a single companion who is either a fellow worker, i.e., another of the employer’s workers; or a full-time official employed by a trade union; or a lay trade union official, so long as they have been reasonably certified in writing by their union as having experience of, or as having received training in, acting as a worker’s companion at disciplinary or grievance hearings.  Such certification may take the form of a card or letter.

A worker who has been requested to accompany a colleague employed by the same employer and has agreed to do so is entitled to take a reasonable amount of paid time off to fulfil this responsibility.  The time off should not only cover the hearing but should also allow a reasonable amount of time off for the accompanying person to familiarise themselves with the case and confer with the worker before and after the hearing. 

The law states that an employer must permit the companion to address the hearing in order to put the worker’s case, sum up that case, and respond on the worker’s behalf to any view expressed at the hearing. The worker and companion must be allowed to confer during the hearing. However the companion is not allowed to answer questions on the worker’s behalf. If the worker indicates that he does not want the companion to address the hearing the employer is not obliged to permit him to do so. Furthermore the companion must not use the powers conferred upon him in a way that prevents the employer from explaining his case or prevents any other person at the hearing from making his contribution to it.

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