Workers have a statutory right to be accompanied by a fellow worker or Trade Union official when they are required to attend disciplinary or grievance hearings and may request to exercise this right either verbally or in writing. This right applies to all workers regardless of their length of service and specifically includes agency and home workers. Casual, temporary and part-time workers are also covered.
The choice of companion is for the employee to decide and is not for the employer to comment upon, provided that the chosen employee falls into one of the two categories above. It is possible for contractual provisions under the Contract of Employment to extend the categories of person who may accompany workers, for example to include partners, spouses or legal representatives; although this is not often recommended.
Employers can refuse a worker’s request to be accompanied if it is not reasonable, for that person to attend. It would for example not be reasonable for a worker to insist on being accompanied by a colleague:
The person whom the worker chooses does have the right to refuse to accompany the worker but, if they consent to attend, the companion should be given a reasonable amount of paid time off during working hours to participate in and prepare for the hearing.
During hearings, the companion has the right to address the hearing, to confer with the employee, to put across the case, to sum up the case and to respond on the employee’s behalf. However, the companion has no right to answer questions on the employer’s behalf, address the hearing if the employee does not want that to happen or to prevent the employer from explaining their case.