Acas has today published a revision to its code of practice concerning disciplinary and grievance issues in the workplace. The changes, described as ‘minor amendments’, relate to the sections around accompanying work colleagues to disciplinary or grievance meetings.

A judgment made by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Toal v GB Oils clarified the rules around reasonable requests to be accompanied at a grievance or disciplinary hearing. It found that workers had the right to be accompanied at these hearings by any companion as long as they were either a trade union official, certified union representative or a fellow worker.

Acas launched a public consultation on the revisions made to the right of accompaniment sections in its disciplinary and grievance code following the EAT’s judgment and a revised draft of the code was published by Acas in January following the consultation. Upon receiving parliamentary approval this week, Anne Sharp, Acas Chief Executive, said, “Our code is designed to help employers, employees and their representatives deal with disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace. It has been updated to take account of the EAT decision in the case of Toal v GB Oils”

The statutory right is to be accompanied by a fellow worker, a trade union representative, or an official employed by a trade union. A trade union representative who is not an employed official must have been certified by their union as being competent to accompany a worker. Employers must agree to a worker’s request to be accompanied by any companion from one of these categories and workers may also alter their choice of companion if they wish. As a matter of good practice, in making their choice workers should bear in mind the practicalities of the arrangements. For instance, a worker may choose to be accompanied by a companion who is suitable, willing and available on site rather than someone from a geographically remote location.

To exercise the statutory right to be accompanied, workers must make a reasonable request. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. A request to be accompanied does not have to be in writing or within a certain time frame. However, a worker should provide enough time for the employer to deal with the companion’s attendance at the meeting. Workers should also consider how they make their request so that it is clearly understood, for instance by letting the employer know in advance the name of the companion where possible and whether they are a fellow worker or trade union official or representative.

If a worker’s chosen companion will not be available at the time proposed for the hearing by the employer, the employer must postpone the hearing to a time proposed by the worker provided that the alternative time is both reasonable and not more than five working days after the date originally proposed.

The updated code has now been approved by Parliament and comes into effect from 11 March 2015.