If you are to have a meeting with your employer about any complaint or concern, you should establish whether the meeting is technically Informal or Formal.
This is because at a Formal Meeting you have certain rights – including a right to be accompanied. This could be by either a colleague or representative of a trade union. At an Informal Meeting you do not.
Yet, this can be complicated by the fact that some unscrupulous employers can pretend that a meeting is Informal when it is not. Or spring on an unsuspecting victim that what they thought was an Informal Meeting was in fact Formal.
What is an Informal Meeting?
An Informal Meeting should amount to little more than a chat with your manager.
Or you could yourself have a complaint or concern. In which case, you should see if you can resolve it informally before commencing the Formal grievance proceedings.
What you should not expect at an Informal Meeting is a Notetaker to produce a record of your discussion. Or to be asked to answer to any specific accusations or criticisms of you, where there is a clear threat of you being punished. And you certainly cannot receive any recorded warning or sanction.
An Informal Meeting can therefore be arranged on pretty much an ad hoc basis. It should never have significance beyond a possible Informal Warning.
What is a Formal Disciplinary Meeting?
- You are expected to answer to specific allegations or criticisms.
- There is a possibility that you could receive a formal warning or sanction.
- Someone is attending to take minutes.
In these circumstances, where a disciplinary meeting is going to be Formal, you should receive in writing:
- Advance notice of the meeting (no less than 2 working days) – including details of the date, time and location.
- The nature, reasons (including any specific allegations) and possible consequences of the meeting.
- The name of the Hearing Manager, Notetaker and anyone else attending on behalf of your employer. This will enable you to check that they are independent. The Hearing Manager should be impartial and at least the same or a higher grade than your own manager.
- The fact that you have a legal right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative.
- That if you or your representative are unable to attend, an alternative date will be arranged. This should typically be within 5 working days of the original date.
- The need to notify your employer in advance of the meeting if you do intend to be accompanied. And by who.
You must also be given any documentation or evidence that may be referred to during the Formal Meeting. Or which could be taken into account by the Hearing Manager as part of his or her deliberations on your case.
Minutes should be produced after the Formal Meeting. You should have the opportunity to confirm whether these are an accurate record of the meeting.
If you have a grievance complaint
Your employer’s approach to individual complaints and concerns should be detailed in its grievance policy. In turn, this must comply with the requirements of the ACAS Code of Practice.
In the first instance, when pursuing a grievance, you should raise your concerns informally with either with your manager, HR or another member of the management team. This should give them the chance to resolve your concerns without any further action.
However, if this doesn’t resolve your concern, you have a legal right to make a formal grievance complaint. This will require:
- A Formal Meeting to be arranged as soon as reasonably possible. This should be within two weeks of your employer receiving your written grievance complaint letter.
- You must be able to ask for an alternative date that is within five days of the originally date
- An independent Hearing Manager should be appointed to consider and respond in writing to your concerns.
- A Notetaker should be organised to produce an accurate record of what was discussed at the meeting.
- You must be advised of your right to be accompanied – either by a work colleague or a representative of a trade union.
- A right to Appeal if you are dissatisfied with the Hearing Manager’s response to your grievance complaint.
If your employer is being uncooperative on any of these points, you should put in writing your objections. Explain that it is acting in breach of the ACAS Code of Practice. WRS can draft this letter for you.
Whether you should be allowed to be accompanied at an Investigatory Meeting will depend upon the circumstances. These could relate to a potential disciplinary matter. Or a grievance or harassment complaint raised by someone else.
As a rule of thumb – a meeting should be treated as Formal it is possible that you could incriminate yourself of wrong-doing and there is a Notetaker present. This is certainly the case if you are subject to investigation about potentially serious fault – either on a disciplinary matter or as the accused in a harassment complaint.
We recommend that, whatever the purpose of your Formal Meeting, you should:
- Produce a Written Statement. This should set out in very clear and persuasive terms your version of events. We provide further detailed guidance here on Written Statements.
- Exercise your legal right to be accompanied. As a minimum you should arrange for a work colleague to join you. But wherever possible, you should have the support of an experienced union representative. Someone who is capable of presenting your case in the most convincing and effective way.
WRS is able to prepare a high-quality Written Statement for you. And we can arrange for you to be accompanied by an exceptionally experienced and effective representative of a trade union – even if you have not previously been a union member.
Within a reasonable time (typically a week) after any Formal or Investigatory Meeting, you should be sent a written record of the meeting. You must be allowed time to check and confirm whether this is an accurate record of what was discussed.
If you disagree with the accuracy, it is not enough to merely refuse to sign or return the meeting record. You must respond in writing stating what changes are required to the meeting notes, for them to be an agreed, accurate record.
Sometimes, it may not be possible for you and the Hearing Manager to agree on an accurate record of the meeting. Then, both sets of meeting notes should be kept on file and referred to should there be further proceedings.
The most common scenarios where a problem can arise are:
1. You have not been told in advance that it is a Formal Meeting.
It is quite possible that you are summoned to a meeting at very short-notice. Or have not been told in advance that it is a Formal Meeting you are attending. The first you may know that something is amiss could be when you arrive and are told you have a right to be accompanied – when clearly there is no time to make such an arrangement.
This would be completely unacceptable behaviour by your employer. You should insist upon the meeting not going ahead until you have had the opportunity to arrange for a companion. Ask that an alternative meeting date be confirmed in writing. You will then be able to alter the date by up to a further five days to prepare and arrange to be accompaniment.
2. What appears to have begun as an Informal Meeting transforms into a Formal Meeting.
Insist that the meeting proceeds no further.
Explain it must be adjourned and rearranged for another date by when you will be better prepared and able to arrange accompaniment.
Also, insist that your objections and concerns should be noted for the record
3. You are not well enough to attend.
It is possible that you may be unable to attend a meeting with your employer … perhaps because of illness. Where this the case, you must provide reasons in writing why you cannot attend.
Your employer should take your circumstances into account. Most reputable employers will typically rearrange the meeting for a time when you are well enough to attend. Alternatively, you may be invited to make a written submission or arrange for someone else to present your case on your behalf.
If your employer is able to show that it is acting reasonably in the circumstances, it may still go ahead with holding a Formal Meeting in your absence. It can base any decision it reaches – possibly including dismissal – on the information it has available to it at the time.
However, this could be a very risky move by for your employer. An employment tribunal may subsequently decide it was acting unreasonably by pressing ahead with proceedings without you.
4. Your employer is refusing to arrange a Formal Meeting to hear your grievance – insisting upon treating your concerns informally instead.
This is far from uncommon. Some employers try to cut corners and would rather not have your concerns documented, or for you to represented by a trade union specialist. They fear this could expose unfair or incompetent treatment.
Once you have had one initial Informal Meeting to discuss your concerns, you should insist on your complaint progressing to your company’s Formal Grievance Procedures. Here you will have a right to be accompanied, have an independent Hearing Manager appointed to hear your case, and receive a written response to your complaint.
Some employers may be so concerned by the formality and union involvement that they might consider offering you instead a Settlement Agreement to resolve your concerns.
What if your employer acts improperly?
- Compensation to you of up to two weeks’ pay – up to a ceiling of £508 (from April 2018) – irrespective of the overall merits of your case.
- Increase the overall compensation you may be awarded by up to 25% following a successful legal complaint.
It is up to an employment tribunal to decide whether your employer has acted improperly in the circumstances.
The only professional support you are entitled to at workplace meetings is that provided by accredited representatives of trade unions.
You have no legal right to be accompanied by solicitors or other advisers. Not even family or friends. The only other option is a work colleague – merely to act as a witness and lend you moral support.
However, if you are not already a member of a trade union, WRS can still assist you. We can:
- Evaluate your case, how best to construct it and your prospects of success.
- For Grievance complaints, guide you on what to write in your Complaint Letter.
- Prepare for you a compelling Written Statement, that gives you the very best prospect of success.
- Arrange for a representative of a trade union to accompany you at any formal Disciplinary, Grievance or Appeal Hearing – presenting your case in by far the most compelling and effective way.