Following a recent ruling by the appeal tribunal in which Thompsons acted for the claimants, Acas has revised its code of practice about who can accompany workers to grievance hearings.
The case - Toal and Hughes v GB Oils Ltd - involved two members of Unite the Union who were asked to a meeting by their employer to hear grievances that they had lodged. They exercised their right under section 10 of the Employment Relations Act to be accompanied to the meeting by an elected union official who was certified by Unite under section 10(3) of the Act.
However, when their employer refused their request they asked if a local Unite Convener could attend. This was agreed. When their grievances were rejected, they appealed and asked again that their union official be allowed to accompany them. This request was again refused and they were accompanied to their appeal hearings by a different official. The men then brought claims that their employer was in breach of section 10 by refusing to allow their chosen union representative to accompany them.
For their part, the employer argued that the Acas code of conduct made clear that the word “reasonably” in section 10 applied not just to the request to be accompanied but also to the choice of representative.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected that argument, holding that there was no requirement for the choice of companion to be reasonable, as long as the choice came from an approved category. These included trade union officials, certified union representatives or fellow workers.
Acas has now said that it will amend its code on handling disciplinaries and grievances at work in order to reflect the appeal tribunal’s ruling.
Charlotte Moore of Thompsons Solicitors said: “This is a beneficial judgment which reinforces a worker’s right to be accompanied, even if the employer does not favour the chosen representative, or believes that the chosen representative may be robust in their representation. The fact that Acas has now said it will amend its code to clarify the point should mean that employers will now ensure their workers are accorded the rights to which they are entitled under the law.”
To read the Acas code on disciplinaries and grievances, go to: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/k/b/Acas_Code_of_Practice_1_on_disciplinary_and_grievance_procedures-accessible-version-Jul-2012.pdf