In the context of HR & Employment Law, the right to be accompanied refers to an employee’s right to arrange for a co-worker or a registered Trade Union Official to accompany them to formal work-related meetings.
This right is enshrined in Article 12 of the Employment Relations (NI) Order 1999. Formal work-related meetings include disciplinary hearings, capability hearings, grievance hearings, redundancy & TUPE 1:1 consultation meetings, flexible working meetings, and all appeals.
Employees do not enjoy the legal right to be accompanied at informal meetings, such as investigation meetings or welfare meetings.
However, employers are at liberty to permit an employee to be accompanied at such meetings should they wish to do so.
Employers should, however, be aware that in doing so, they may be setting a precedent other employees may seek to rely on in the future.
Employers should permit employees who are disabled to be accompanied at informal meetings as a reasonable adjustment to take the employee’s disability into consideration.
Employers may also wish to permit an employee to be accompanied by a family member or friend if that employee is disabled, or is attending a welfare meeting or medical capability hearing.
Employers should not permit an employee to be accompanied by a solicitor or barrister, as this creates an imbalance of power in internal work-related meetings.
The only exception to this rule is for doctors who have been accused of gross misconduct and there is a chance that doctor will lose their job if the allegations against them are substantiated.
Where an employee seeks to have a formal meeting rescheduled due to the unavailability of their Trade Union Official, employers have the right to have that rescheduled for 5 days after the abandoned date.
Where an employee wishes to be accompanied by a Trade Union Official, that Official’s documentation should be checked by the meeting chair for validity in advance of the formal meeting commencing.
During the meeting, the Trade Union Official is entitled to make oral representations on behalf of their member at the beginning and end of the meeting. The Official is entitled to adjourn the meeting temporarily to discuss a matter with their member in private at any point during the meeting. In addition, the Official is entitled to interject during the meeting where they feel fair procedure is not being followed.
Trade Union Officials are not entitled to answer questions on behalf of their member, or to lead the meeting on behalf of their member – but can assist their member with memory or clarification.
Where a Trade Union Official acts outside its remit, an employer is entitled to adjourn the meeting and to make a complaint to that Official’s Trade Union.
If you have any questions regarding an employee’s right to be accompanied to work-related meetings, please contact the advice line on +44 (0)28 9032 5495