Employee accompaniment a laughing matter?

Together we are Forbes

Article

26 September, 2019

A redundancy, grievance or disciplinary process can be confusing and stressful for both employers and the individual involved. Employment law provides the employee with the right to accompaniment at related meetings by a trade union representative or work colleague to offer a degree of support. Often employees will seek accompaniment by an individual who does not fall into either category. This is only permitted in exceptional circumstances and those refused a free choice of accompaniment often question the perceived fairness of such a restriction. However, a recent headline relating to an employee in New Zealand goes some way towards explaining one aspect of the motivation for this restriction.

When Josh Thompson, a copywriter in New Zealand, received a daunting email from his employer wishing to discuss the future of his role at the company, he chose a more light-hearted and comedic companion to join him. He reportedly hired a clown called Joe for NZ$200. He was permitted to take Joe along to the meeting as employment law in New Zealand permits employees to be supported by an individual of their own choice as opposed to being restricted to trade union representatives or work colleagues.

News reports claim that Joe accompanied Josh to the meeting, which turned out to be confirmation of redundancy, and proceeded to noisily make balloon animals and act out clown like responses to the issues discussed in the meeting. Understandably, this was a somewhat unpleasant distraction for the HR team trying to deliver the news of redundancy to Josh.

Whilst this may be an amusing and entertaining story, it highlights the need to ensure suitable support for employees in such meetings. Such support should be for the benefit of the employee and whilst Joe was no doubt an amusing addition to the meeting, his presence was distracting and offered little support to Josh. Unless exceptional circumstances apply, accompaniment should be restricted to trade union representatives or work colleagues for the benefit of all parties. It is important to bear in mind that if the consultation results in an employee being dismissed or made redundant, failure to allow the employee to be accompanied could result in the dismissal being unfair. So, whilst those falling outside the specified category can be excluded in the absence of exceptional circumstances, the correct form of accompaniment should be encouraged to avoid the risk of allegations of unfair dismissal. Employers would be prudent to document confirmation of an employee's rights of accompaniment and encourage the same in any situation where an employee is insisting on unpermitted accompaniment which has been refused. Any employer who is unsure whether exceptional circumstances apply would be best placed seeking legal advice.

For more information contact Florrie Slater in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 01772 220241. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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