If you are not sure, the right of accompaniment is one of the fundamental employee rights where they are entitled to be accompanied by a companion in any meeting where they may suffer a detriment. This includes any meetings where the outcome may be the award of a penalty, examples include a disciplinary meeting, a redundancy consultation, and a probation review meeting considering a dismissal.
A cautionary tale…
When discussing the right of accompaniment recently with a client, they told me tales of “mothers” sitting in employee meetings and for one employee, an employee of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau attended as a companion at multiple meetings.
They were shocked to learn from me that neither the mother nor the CAB employee should have been in the room. The legislation is clear that the “companion” can be either an existing work colleague or a trade union representative. (in some circumstances this can be expanded e.g. safeguarding situations but that is for another day). No one else should enter your internal meetings and that includes a solicitor (unless your contract permits it).
Using it is a perfect teaching moment I was able to workshop, how in both scenarios they could have explained the statutory right to the employee, denied entry to the person(s) who did not meet the legal definition of the companion and consider postponing the meetings until the employees found a suitable and eligible companion.
So, what is the story?
Well at the meeting where the CAB employee was permitted access, not once but in multiple meetings, the business actually had a HR consultant in the room whom they had hired to manage the process for them.
Yes an external HR professional, one the business had trusted (and paid) to be an expert to guide them through this process.
That “professional”, had in my opinion, failed their client the second they let the CAB employee enter the room.
This is not a complicated area of HR, indeed it is quite basic. So I cannot understand how any HR professional would have let that happen.
Would it have been awkward to deny access? Most likely.
Was there a possibility it could turn adversarial to deny access? Probably.
Did they have the right to deny access? Absolutely.
Was it their professional duty to deny access to a third party who did not have the legal authority to sit in on multiple internal employee disciplinary meetings, creating a dangerous precedent for their client? Yes, categorically yes it was.
You see, when you engage a professional, especially a HR professional, you expect them to have the skills, the knowledge and the confidence to carry out these challenging situations on your behalf.
So, if you are trusting your employee relations to a third party, please check their credentials to ensure they are qualified and experienced to handle your case.
For me to hear stories like this, it first of all makes me indignant with anger that the client was failed by someone from my profession. Then that indignation fuels my desire to educate and empower NI small employers so they understand their rights as employers in the workplace.
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