Returning to work after a long illness can be daunting. A well-supported phased return can make the process easier. This guidance describes what a phased return to work is, how it operates and answers common queries.
Do I have the right to take a colleague or union representative?
Possibly. Workers have a statutory right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union official where they are required or invited by their employer to attend certain disciplinary or grievance hearings. We believe disabled employees and others who may be vulnerable because of other protected characteristics (e.g. an employee for whom English is not a first language) should be accompanied in any event if the absence of a companion would leave them unfairly disadvantaged.
What is a disciplinary hearing?
The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Code of Practice, Disciplinary and grievance procedures, defines a disciplinary hearing as one that could result in:
- a formal warning being issued to an employee (i.e. a warning that will be placed on the employee's record)
- the taking of some other disciplinary action (such as suspension without pay, demotion or dismissal); or
- the confirmation of a warning or some other disciplinary action (such as an appeal hearing). Your employer's disciplinary procedures should be readily available, normally in the staff handbook.
What is a grievance hearing?
The ACAS guidance defines a grievance hearing as a meeting at which an employer deals with a complaint about a duty owed by them to an employee, whether the duty arises from statute or common law (e.g. contractual commitments).
Your employer's grievance procedures should be readily available, normally in the staff handbook.
What if the meeting is neither a disciplinary nor grievance hearing?
In this instance, you do not have the right to take a colleague or union representative along. Nevertheless, you can certainly ask if you can take a colleague or union rep with you. This will be considered at the employer's discretion.
However, if it becomes clear during the meeting that disciplinary action may be called for, then you should ask that the meeting is closed and rearranged to allow you to be accompanied by a colleague or union representative.
How should I prepare for and conduct myself during the meeting?
The following tips should help you get the most from the meeting:
- ask for a brief agenda of items to be raised
- take a note book and pen
- note the time and location of the meeting together with the names of those present
- make sure the agenda is adhered to
- if asked questions that you cannot immediately answer, ask for time to check your records and consider your response; this may mean getting back to the head or principal at a later date
- try not to become or appear defensive
- do not be tempted to make a covert recording of the meeting
- be wary of filling in any awkward silences
- keep calm — don't lose your temper
- do not allow yourself to be bullied — if you feel intimidated by body language/raised voices/'ganging up' then say so; if you begin to feel upset then ask for an adjournment
- you are entitled to bring a meeting to a close and leave if you do not wish to continue; however, if you can, try to stay calm and get to the conclusion of the discussion
- if concerns are being raised about your performance or conduct, then ask what evidence there is to substantiate them
- at the end of the meeting make sure you summarise the main points and conclusions (including any assurances of support/training) and request a copy of any policies and/or procedures that management are following
- in the unlikely event you are suspended, ask what colleagues will be told about your absence and contact the NEU for guidance
- after the meeting, try to organise and flesh out your notes in more detail, and file them somewhere safe and accessible.
I am a school/college rep. What can I do to help protect my school/college group?
- Review your school/college’s disciplinary and grievance policies
- Do they allow interviewees to be accompanied to an investigation meeting?
- If not, seek to negotiate such provision into the disciplinary and grievance policies
- Companions are typically trade union reps/officials, or workplace colleagues, but you should ask the employer, where appropriate, to allow a personal friend or family member to be the companion in certain circumstances (e.g. where the member has significant health issues).
What if the meeting did not go well?
If you have any concerns about the content of the meeting or the manner in which it was conducted, please speak to the National Education Union representative at your school, your branch/district secretary or contact the National Education Union’s Adviceline 0345 811 8111.