Warning on accompaniment right

The right to be accompanied to a disciplinary or grievance hearing which
comes into force on 6 June is likely to lead to many tribunal cases, according
to a leading employment lawyer.

The provisions, enshrined in the Employment Relations Act 1999, contain
ambiguities and "odd wording" that could cause real problems for
employers, said Stephen Levinson, partner at KLegal.

The right is triggered when the worker is required or invited to attend a
hearing.

But Levinson points out that many grievance hearings are requested by the
employee and agreed to by the employer and it is not clear if this is covered
by the provisions.

Also, to claim the right to be accompanied, the employee must be acting
reasonably in making the request. But there is no guidance in the Act on how to
assess "reasonableness".

"Most commentators relate the reasonableness of the request to the
seriousness of the subject matter of the meeting. It might also be a factor if
the employee is an over-persistent exerciser of the grievance procedure.

"Both arguments may lead to a refusal and in turn a visit to the local
tribunal," Levinson said.

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