Accompaniment, Workplace Representation and Disciplinary Outcomes in British Workplaces — Just a Formality?

Date01 March 2009
Published date01 March 2009
Accompaniment, Workplace
Representation and Disciplinary
Outcomes in British Workplaces —
Just a Formality?
Valerie Antcliff and Richard Saundry
The Workplace Employment Relations Survey 2004 provides data that, for the
first time, measure the extent to which workforce representation is part and
parcel of grievance and disciplinary processes in British workplaces. This article
explores the impact of the introduction of the statutory right to accompaniment
at grievance and disciplinary hearings on rates of disciplinary sanctions, dis-
missals and employment tribunal applications. It concludes that there is little
evidence to suggest that either the right to accompaniment or the operation of
formal grievance and disciplinary procedures moderates disciplinary outcomes.
Instead, it argues that trade union and employee representatives may be influ-
ential in facilitating the resolution of workplace disputes.
1. Introduction
Improving the effectiveness of grievance and disciplinary procedures in
workplaces in Great Britain (GB) has been a key theme of government
employment policy and debate over the past ten years. A stream of legislation
has emerged from the government’s determination to strengthen processes of
dispute resolution and contain the growth of employment tribunal applica-
tions. Most recently, the government announced the repeal of statutory
grievance and dismissal procedures, less than four years after their introduc-
tion, following the recommendations of the Gibbons Review into employ-
ment dispute resolution (Gibbons 2007).
One key piece of legislation in this area, and one not considered by
Gibbons, was the statutory right to be accompanied within grievance and
disciplinary hearings (introduced in September 2000). It was hoped that by
Valerie Antcliff and Richard Saundry are at the University of Central Lancashire.
British Journal of Industrial Relations doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8543.2008.00709.x
47:1 March 2009 0007–1080 pp. 100–121
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd/London School of Economics 2009. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd,
9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
providing access to workplace representatives, employees would be treated
more fairly within grievance and disciplinary processes. Moreover, effective
representation was seen as crucial in reducing workplace conflict and facili-
tating the successful resolution of individual disputes.
Research into the impact of post-1997 employment legislation in reference
to workplace procedures for dealing with discipline and grievance has been
limited (Dickens et al. 2005). However, the 2004 Workplace Employment
Relations Survey (WERS 2004) contains valuable new data regarding the
level and nature of representation available to employees within grievance
and disciplinary hearings. This allows us to examine (for the first time) the
relationship between employee representation and rates of disciplinary
sanctions, dismissal and applications to employment tribunals. In order to
achieve this, we have estimated separate multivariate regression models for
each of the above rates using a common set of explanatory independent
variables that measure characteristics of the workforce and workplace. These
include legal compliance with the right to accompaniment; a measure of
formality within grievance and disciplinary procedures; demographic fea-
tures, such as gender, ethnicity and age of the workforce; and workplace size,
type of establishment and union density.
The article is organized as follows: first, the legal framework that under-
pins workplace discipline and grievance is outlined and the extant research in
this area is reviewed; second, the methods used are described and the inde-
pendent and dependent variables are explained and discussed; third, WERS
2004 is analysed to provide an overview of accompaniment in GB work-
places. The results of the multivariate regression models are then set out and
the findings discussed before, finally, conclusions are drawn.
2. Discipline and grievance — the legal framework
The traditional approach to discipline and grievance in UK workplaces has
been essentially voluntaristic with (until recently) a relative absence of statu-
tory compulsion. Following the introduction of the right to claim unfair
dismissal under the Industrial Relations Act 1971, the failure to follow a fair
disciplinary procedure could result in a successful unfair dismissal claim.
Furthermore, under the Employment Protection Act 1975, employers were
obliged to include details of any workplace disciplinary and grievance pro-
cedures in the written particulars of the terms of employment of their
employees.1However, legislation did not stipulate the scope, extent or opera-
tion of such procedures. Moreover, those employers who did not have
written disciplinary and/or grievance procedures were not under any statu-
tory obligation to introduce them.
It was left to the 1977 Acas Code of Practice on ‘Disciplinary Practice and
Procedures’ to provide more detailed guidance for employers and employees.
While the code was not legally binding, it could be taken into account by
industrial tribunals in determining what could be expected of a reasonable
Representation and Disciplinary Outcomes 101
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd/London School of Economics 2009.

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