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Refusal of companion amounts to breach of trust and confidence

25 August 2015

In Stevens v University of Birmingham (UoB), the High Court held that the refusal to allow an employee to be accompanied by a companion beyond their statutory or contractual entitlements breached the duty of trust and confidence.

S, an employee of UoB, was invited to an investigatory meeting. He requested that a representative from the Medical Protection Society (MPS) accompany him. UoB rejected the request as the representative was neither a trade union representative nor an employee of UoB, as permitted by the employment contract.

UoB was held to be in breach because of the seriousness of the allegations, the need to show equality of arms, the similarity of MPS to a union, and the role the MPS had played to date.

The case is unusual on its facts but highlights that an employer cannot always rely on statute or the express terms of the employment contract in such a situation.

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