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I Want My Solicitor Here!

This week has been a cold one and I’m not talking about the weather. Putin’s tank, Brexit Remoaners and Trump. We do live in interesting times don’t we? And now Christmas is just around the corner bringing its own little crop of festive problems.

Not every employee I come across is making his or her way onto Santa’s good list. We seem to be knee-deep in disciplines and grievances at the moment. Some of the matters aggrieved employees raise are even more ridiculous than the plot of the average OTT soap opera and boy, do we have high drama over it. Sometimes that phrase of Michael Winner’s comes to mind “Calm down dear ...” (and it’s a struggle not to say it).

We come across some shocking ‘screamers’. For those of you who don’t know what a screamer is, it’s Russell HR shorthand for someone who thinks that if he screams and shouts long enough and loud enough he will get what he wants. Stock phrases of screamers are: ‘You can’t do that to me!’ (I can); ‘That’s against my human rights!’(It’s not); ‘You’re bullying and harassing me!’ (politely asking you to do the job you’re paid to do? I think not.) are all commonly uttered.

We’ve heard it all before many times (I could write the script) and it doesn’t wash with me or my team. If we aren’t strapping on metaphorical armour to chair meetings of this type, we are advising our clients on how to appropriately conduct them.

Last week employment barrister Daniel Barnett sent out an email entitled ‘I want my mum’. Unless mum works for the business or is an accredited trade union representative, employees can’t demand mum, dad or a solicitor at a formal discipline or grievance meeting unless the company’s procedure allows it.

There are times when it would be prudent to allow an employee to be accompanied by a parent or other companion, for example, if the employee is under 18, has a disability which impacts on his ability to understand and engage with the process or is likely to struggle where English is not the employee’s first language, but generally we tend to stick to the statutory choices of work colleague or union rep. As a matter of good practice we extend this to informal meetings and investigations, even though there is no right to be accompanied in these meetings.

It’s common enough for people to demand to have their solicitor present and you should consider it. For example, you may have an employee, Bob, who is not meeting and maintaining your standards. It’s a minor matter – say breach of the dress code and Bob has not got any warnings on his record. You have given him informal guidance and offered help if needed. He has had time to improve but he is still coming to work wearing trainers rather than shoes and you decide to invite him to a formal discipline meeting.

You send him an invitation to discipline letter which says ‘You have the right to be accompanied by a workplace colleague or trade union representative’. Bob replies and tells you that he wants his solicitor present otherwise he won’t turn up to the meeting.

Can he bring his solicitor along with him to the meeting? The short answer is ‘no’. Bob’s not going to be dismissed at this stage and he has no need of reasonable adjustments. Unless there are extenuating circumstances we tend to stick to the letter of the law and our policy.

If you wish to do so you can give permission to allow the solicitor to attend and as the facts of each case must be considered separately but Bob does not have the right to demand.

We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need help resolving problems with badly behaved employees here or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 262628.

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