There have been two cases which emphasise the need for employers to understand what the law says, have appropriate policies and procedures and then follow them.
The first case concerns the statutory right to be accompanied at a disciplinary, grievance or appeal hearing which gives an employee the right to be accompanied by a companion of their choice who is either a work colleague or a trade union representative. An employer cannot refuse a request and if the employee’s companion is unable to attend the meeting, the employee can propose an alternative time providing this is within five working days of the original meeting starting with the next working day after the day proposed by the employer.
If the employee has a disability, it may be a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act to permit the employee to be accompanied by someone other than a work colleague or trade union representative to remove any disadvantage.
Where the employer has been refused the right to be accompanied, the employee can bring a claim to an employment tribunal with a maximum award of two weeks pay.
In the case of Gnahoua v Abellio London Ltd, the employee was a bus driver who was dismissed for looking at his iPad whilst driving his bus. He appealed against his dismissal and wanted to be accompanied to the appeal hearing by one of two brothers who had formed a union. Both brothers were, however, banned by the employer from representing employees at hearings due to their behaviour.
Mr Gnahoua was not represented at the appeal hearing where the decision to dismiss him was upheld. He then brought a tribunal claim which included denial of the right to be accompanied.
The employment tribunal found that in theory the employer had breached the claimant’s right to be accompanied but in this case the tribunal only awarded the sum of £2.
In the second case – Wileman v Lancaster & Duke Ltd – the employee’s behaviour was compared to that of a playground bully. Problems came to a head and the employers took the decision to dismiss the employee for gross misconduct.
Wileman successfully claimed unfair dismissal and the judge criticised the employers for not raising concerns formally with her when they arose. He recognised that inexperienced employers might ignore problems and fail to tackle them, but there comes a time when even the smallest of employers must deal with them. Being small does not release them from doing so in a reasonable way.
The case highlights that even small employers need to have basic policies which are applied and employers need to understand the employment law which underpins the policies.
If you would like further information or support for your business please contact Sheila Watson on 01429 857082 / firstname.lastname@example.org