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Rights of Workers to be Accompanied at Disciplinary/Grievance procedures

The right of workers to be accompanied by a companion chosen by the worker, not the employer, has been reinforced by a recent decision by the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case of Roberts v GB Oils.
In terms of the Employment Rights Act 1999 s10(1) and(2), a worker can “reasonably request” to be accompanied at a disciplinary or grievance hearing by a companion “chosen by the worker” and satisfying the criteria set out in s10(3). Under s10(3) a worker is entitled to choose to be accompanied by either a Trade Union official who is employed by the TU, or by a TU official not employed by the TU but certified in writing as having relevant experience for these hearings, or by a colleague of the worker.
In Roberts, the employers were held by the EAT to have breached s10 by refusing the worker his choice of s10(3) companion. The employers had argued that they had been entitled to refuse the original companion chosen by the worker in his request to be accompanied, on the basis that the worker’s choice of companion made the request an unreasonable one under s10(1)(b).
The EAT on both cases, however held that an employer cannot use s10(1)(b) to refuse a request as unreasonable simply because the employer does not like the worker’s choice of companion. It held that the worker has freedom of choice of requested companion, as long as the companion satisfies one of the three criteria set out in s10(3). In other words, the issue of overall reasonableness or otherwise of the request to be accompanied (s10(1)(b)) does not involve consideration of the worker’s choice of companion under s10(3).
This is important protection of the worker’s right to choose is companion. It should be noted, however, that if worker deliberately chose a valid but nonetheless clearly unreasonable companion, while he would still technically win a tribunal claim under s10 if this request was refused, the tribunal could reduce the (max 2 weeks’ pay) award to nil on equitable grounds.

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