What is an employee representative?
Employee representatives may be chosen by their fellow employees or appointed by management. The roles of employee representatives vary but most:
- receive information from and give information to management
- pass on information more widely within the workforce
- are consulted by management over certain workplace matters
Employee representatives operate mainly in businesses that:
- do not recognise any trade union for collective bargaining purposes
- recognise a trade union in respect of some, but not all, of their employees
Why consult employee representatives?
Most of the legal duties to consult employee representatives arise in one-off situations such as large scale redundancies or business transfers. Therefore, if you do not recognise any trade unions, you may not have to have employee representatives in place at times when those one-off events are not occurring.
However, some businesses have employee representatives in place on a permanent and ongoing basis so that they:
- will not have to arrange for employee representatives to be elected when a legal duty arises
- can easily inform and consult their workforce about business performance or workplace issues on an ongoing basis
- can apply an inclusive style of management, which in turn may improve their employees' commitment and performance
When to consult employee representatives
You must consult employee representatives:
- in collective redundancy situations - see employee representatives during collective redundancy situations
- where the employer proposes to dismiss and re-engage 20 or more employees as a result of contract variation
- when employees are transferred from one employer to another - see employee representatives during business transfers
- on certain changes to occupational and personal pension schemes - see pension representatives
In these situations, if you don't already have any employee representatives, you will have to arrange for them to be elected - although you don't need to 'force' employees to elect them.
You may also need to consult employee representatives on workforce agreements concerning:
- parental leave schemes
- the use of successive fixed-term contracts
- working time, eg for daily and weekly rest periods, and rest breaks during the working day
Ongoing consultation with employee representatives
You may have to set up an ongoing information and consultation arrangement with elected employee representatives. This might be not only on a national level but also across the European Union.
However, you only have to do this if the relevant employees make a valid request for such an arrangement.
Read more on ongoing information and consultation arrangements.
Note that you also have a duty to carry out ongoing consultation with employees or their representatives on health and safety matters - see ongoing consultation on health and safety matters.
Voluntary ongoing consultation with employee representatives
If you don't have to inform and consult, you can still come to a voluntary agreement with employee representatives on ways in which they can:
- make employees' views known to management
- help strengthen both management's and employees' understanding of workplace issues and other matters affecting the business
- help create an atmosphere of mutual trust between employees and management and therefore improve workplace relations
Examples of voluntary arrangements with employee representatives include:
- individual informal discussions or formal group meetings
- works councils, eg joint consultative committees and joint working parties where representatives of employers consult employee representatives for their views before making decisions - this could be through regular discussion of matters of mutual concern or by meeting to consider and resolve specific business issues
Representation of individual employees
Workers have the right to be accompanied by a trade union official who may be either a full-time official employed by a union or a lay union official who has been reasonably certified in writing by his/her union as having experience of, or as having received training in, acting as a worker's companion or a fellow worker at disciplinary and grievance hearings.
In non-unionised settings, a worker may want to choose an employee representative to act as their companion because that person may be more familiar with the tasks associated with the role of spokesperson.
However they are still entitled to be accompanied by a trade union official who may be either a full-time official employed by a union or a lay union official who has been reasonably certified in writing by his/her union as having experience of, or as having received training in, acting as a worker's companion in a non-unionised setting.