As the casework manager for Edapt, we receive cases each week where unexpected events occur to school staff. These can include allegations from pupils against teachers resulting in disciplinary procedures and potential future dismissal.
Some of these unexpected events can be career defining and can see school staff being struck off from the profession, so having high-quality employment support from an organisation such as Edapt can be invaluable.
Accompaniment by one of our trained caseworkers at your side during one of the most difficult, and often upsetting meetings in your career is one of the main reasons why school staff subscribe to Edapt.
However, technically, in its current form, Section 10 of the Employment Rights Act 1999 could see accompaniment from one of our caseworkers challenged.
What is the Employment Rights Act 1999?
You might not be aware of all the details in the Employment Rights Act (ERA) 1999.
The ERA 1999 is an Act of Parliament which outlines details on employment rights in work, the right for accompaniment for disciplinary and grievance hearings amongst other laws. It applies to employees in different sectors and not just those in schools.
Section 10 of the ERA 1999 creates a right for employees to be accompanied to disciplinary or grievance meetings by a companion of their choice provided that the chosen companion is a member of one of the following categories:
- A paid official of a trade union;
- An unpaid official of a trade union who is certified as competent to act as a companion; or
- Another of the employer’s workers.
So currently the law only requires employers, including schools, to allow staff to be joined by a union representative or colleague at grievance and disciplinary meetings.
Employees can also be accompanied by a colleague from the same workplace, although this is not always beneficial to the process, and some colleagues may be reluctant to provide such support.
We’ve written more about the ERA 1999 here.
What are the proposed changes to the ERA 1999?
In March 2021, Members of Parliament, led by Brendan Clarke-Smith MP, are calling for a change in the law to allow teachers non-political support in disciplinary and grievance hearings. This is a positive move to improve teachers’ and indeed all workers’ employment rights.
Mr Clarke-Smith said that his bill will strengthen the rights of teachers who feel employment rights should not be dependent on trade union membership.
He added that the only way of ensuring any change in the law is applied to all schools would be to either mend the primary ERA 1999 itself or introduce new standalone primary legislation.
Our own CEO, John Roberts, has said:
“Accompaniment should not be a closed shop – teachers and staff should be allowed to choose who they have alongside them at times of great stress and anxiety. It’s great to see a Member of Parliament bring forward this issue – especially so a former head who fully understands the impact of the current legislation. This is very straightforwardly a question of fairness. Joining a union is a choice, but this choice should not affect a teacher’s, or indeed any employee’s, employment law rights.
Should the Government decide to make legislative changes, this will see equal rights under the law to workers and employees regardless of whether they are a member of a trade union or not.
It means that everyone is afforded the same rights to be accompanied in their working life by an appropriately trained companion during any difficult times, and it is baffling to understand why anyone would be opposed to such a positive move forward for employment relations.”
“I am truly indebted to my caseworker”
In my role as casework manager, I have oversight of hundreds of cases each year and can attest that without our caseworker accompaniment during disciplinary and grievance hearings the effectiveness of the process and the overall outcome for the teacher and the school would be detrimentally impacted.
I’m looking forward to see whether amendments can be made and hopefully it might mean that workers in all sectors can rest assured that they will be able to access qualified accompaniment in disciplinary or grievance hearings during one of the most stressful periods of their careers.