A copy writer based in New Zealand has hit the headlines over the past few days by bringing a clown called Joe to accompany him to a meeting to discuss his role being at risk of redundancy. Apparently Joe spent the meeting noisily fashioning balloon animals and then mimed weeping when the redundancy paperwork was handed over.
This incident happened in New Zealand, but just how far does the right to be accompanied extend over here? Well, usually not very far. For starters, in England and Wales the legal right to be accompanied normally only applies in relation to grievance and disciplinary hearings, although as a matter of best practice it is a good idea to let the employee bring a companion along to a redundancy consultation meeting. And who should the companion be? The right to be accompanied is limited in England and Wales to work colleagues or trade union officials and representatives. This means family members, friends, lawyers, clowns, emotional support animals and the like can normally be lawfully turned away (assuming of course that they are not also a colleague or TU rep).
However, that said, employers may wish to take a more flexible approach under some circumstances. For example, perhaps allowing a friend or family member to accompany the employee if the employee has been off sick or is disabled (as an employer must bear in mind their obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the disability discrimination laws). Also, sometimes, an employer might have a contractual provision or policy which extends the normal rights to be accompanied. And where you have an employee who might have trouble understanding English (for example, it might not be their first language), again it is likely to be appropriate to extend the usual companion rules. In any case, it’s a good idea to ask the employee to tell you who their chosen companion is, i.e. their name and whether they are a TU rep or a colleague, prior to the meeting. This way you can raise any objections in advance if the response from the employee is “I’ll be bringing Joe, Emotional Support Clown”.
"Joe" accompanied Josh for the redundancy meeting, where the clown made balloon animals, although he had to be told to stop a few times as it was difficult to hear above the screeching of plastic.