Gather all the necessary facts
It is important to ensure you are fully aware of all the facts involved with the case. PCS has produced a personal case form (PC1) to enable you to record the necessary information. You should complete a PC1 for any but the most straightforward queries.
PCS has also produced an information letter for members. Again in any but the most straightforward cases you should ensure that the member is given a copy of this letter and that you retain a written record on the file of the date on which the letter was supplied.
PCS has faced legal action from members alleging that reps have undertaken to submit their ET1 claim; when that has not happened and the member loses the capacity to pursue the employer, they may then seek to sue the union.
Being able to show that they were given the letter and when is important in defending PCS from such legal action.
Meeting the member
Many of the queries that you receive from members will be simple and can be dealt with over the phone or with a single memo. In more complex cases you will want to meet the member to discuss the case in detail.
Usually, management provides a room for the union to use to meet members. You should make arrangements to meet the member at a mutually convenient time, and notify management. Your manager should not turn down any reasonable request for time off to deal with personal cases. If you have trouble getting time off to deal with cases, speak to your branch secretary or a PCS group officer.
If the member is off sick or away from work for any other reason they may ask to meet you at another location. Whilst this may be acceptable to you, you need to ensure your and the member’s safety and security.
Is it sensible, for example, to go to a member’s home, if you don’t know them and/or are unsure of their reaction or that of their friends or relatives who may also be present. Don’t put yourself at risk. If you have concerns you can discuss these with your branch secretary or other officers.
The main purpose of the initial meeting is to enable you to ensure that you have a proper understanding of their concerns and that you have an agreed way forward.
You may not be in a position to agree all the steps that you will want to take at that first meeting – you may need to find out further information about the legal position or look up agreements.
Don’t feel pressured into making judgments at this stage on the merits of what the member may
be seeking to achieve.
You should ensure that you have a completed PC1 form by the end of the initial meeting, with as much information on it as you can. You should also ensure that the member brings to the meeting copies of any relevant paperwork – letters, emails, memos etc. Do not take originals at this stage – unless it is unavoidable, in which case you should arrange to copy them as soon as possible and return the originals to the member.
You will need to take notes and at the end of the first contact with the member, be sure that you have a shared understanding of the issues involved, and the course of action you and the member will take next. It is important to continue this shared understanding at every stage of the case.
Once you have gathered the necessary information from the member, your next steps will be determined by your level of knowledge and experience about the issues raised. You will probably need to check which personnel procedure or guide is appropriate.
Guidance on the procedures relevant to your particular workplace is usually available in written guides or on department intranet sites. It is always important to check these procedures/guides, as cases can often be won simply because management have not followed their own procedures.
You will also need to consider whether there are any legal aspects to the issues raised and whether this means that you need advice on submitting a complaint to an employment tribunal (ET). Remember, the time limit is not delayed or extended because you are working through internal procedures.
From 29 July 2013, all claims to the Employment Tribunal in England, Wales and Scotland must be accompanied by either payment of the appropriate fee or by a fully documented application for remission.
PCS will advance the necessary fees to members whose claims are judged to have merit but, in order for that to be approved the necessary papers must be received by the Legal & Personal Case Unit at PCS no later than four weeks before the due date for the ET1 to be lodged.
Provided the Legal & Personal Case Unit approve the advance of the Issue Fee, and if internal processes are still running, you should arrange for the member to submit their ET complaint and then ask the ET to suspend any further action on the case, pending completion of internal procedures.
ET complaints showing representation by a PCS representative should only be submitted to the employment tribunal once authority has been received from the Legal & Personal Case Unit. If authority has not been obtained, you should not declare that a PCS representative is acting in the case; leave that section blank.
It can always be amended later and it is better to add in a rep name at a later date than to include one initially and have to inform the ET and the respondent at a later date that PCS are withdrawing support - this tends to suggest to respondents that we have evaluated the case and thought it does not have good prospects.
When you have decided on the appropriate process to use, check any deadlines or timescales and ensure you are in a position to meet them. The member may have approached you because he or she has received a disciplinary interview or letter, with a specific timescale in which to respond.
In some cases they may have waited before seeking advice from the union, so always keep a close eye on deadlines that need to be met. A simple ‘bring forward’ system will help you do this. Please contact your group or regional office if you want help in setting up such a system.
Remember, you should only approach management about the issues once you have agreed with the member that this is alright. You may need to hold a further meeting with the member, once you have identified all the issues and the appropriate procedures.
It is important to approach management at the appropriate level to progress your case. It is sometimes tempting to write to the most senior manager available, but generally they will only pass the case back down to the appropriate level.
Also, you may have to escalate the issue to a higher level of management later, so start at the appropriate place. Again details are available in your own workplace procedures.
Your approach may be by telephone, in person or in the form of a letter or memo. In each case be clear about the facts as well as your arguments, backing them up with references to the relevant guidance.
Remember also that you may be required to prove your contact with management in a court setting, so think about whether it is better to have a written record of the contact.
If/when management reply, you may also want to ask for that reply to be in writing.
Meetings with management
These may take place with or without the member. But ensure that the member is aware if you are meeting management without them.
Employees have a legal right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearings. They can choose their companion, as long as they are a trade union official, a certified union rep or a colleague.
Meetings should be arranged to suit the employee, employee’s representative and management. Staff should not be bulldozed into a meeting with management if the representative is not available. Legally, a worker can propose an alternative date and time, which must be reasonable and no more than five working days later than the original meeting.
Be clear what you want from the meeting before going in, and outline this to management from the start. The representative can address the meeting, confer with the member and put the member’s case.
You can respond on behalf of the member to any views expressed. You can also sum up the member’s case. You cannot, however, answer questions on behalf of the member. It is important that you are in full possession of the facts so there are no surprises during the meeting.
Do your best to ensure the member does not react aggressively to management during the meeting or lose his or her temper. It is not uncommon for management to take disciplinary action against a member of staff for this alone.
You are entitled to breaks or adjournments during meetings. You can use these to regain composure or to reflect on what management are saying.
Again, ensure all parties have a common understanding of what has been said and any agreed actions during the meeting.
Seek an acceptable resolution
Following any meeting or correspondence with management, allow enough time for you and member to reflect on what has been said. Bearing in mind procedural deadlines, avoid making decisions on the spot.
Your objective is to get the best possible deal for the member in the circumstances. It is not automatically the case that there is more to be gained by pursuing the issue further.
It may be that the case does need to be escalated to a higher level of management. You may feel that you now need to seek advice from a more experienced representative. You may believe that in all the circumstances, the member should take what is on offer from management.
Again you need to reach an understanding with the member on the course of action you have decided. If you have managed the expectation of the member from the outset, they will respect the position you have taken and value your opinion.
Remember to record details of any discussions or decisions you have reached.
Cases against other PCS members
It is not uncommon for this to occur, as PCS represents members of all grades. The same general rules of confidentiality and professionalism should be applied, whatever your views on the case. Both parties can be represented by PCS.
It is important to be seen to treat both parties equally in these cases. Allocate a representative for each, either from within the branch, or arrange for representation from outside the branch. It is important that the representatives are broadly of the same seniority and experience – otherwise we could be open to claims of unfair treatment or discrimination.
If in doubt, contact a more senior representative or PCS full time officer.
Effective document management
The key to keeping on top of your casework is effective document management – which really just means having systems in place to bring together all the necessary documents for a case, to keep them in an ordered way and to have an effective reminder or ‘bring forward’ (B/F) system.
You have a right to reasonable facilities from your employer to enable you to carry out your tasks as a union representative. This should include access to lockable storage facilities within the workplace, so that you can keep paperwork safe and confidential.
Start a folder for each new personal case. At the front, keep the PC1 form and behind that you can build up a series of relevant documents.
In more complex cases, you may wish to sub-divide this into sections – you could have sections for:
- correspondence which is taking the case forward, whether it is with management, the member or other reps or HQ,
- the papers the member received prior to raising the issue with you
- extracts from employment terms and conditions
- tribunal correspondence and documents.
On the front, you can note the next date that you need to look at the file (a b/f date).
Retaining closed files
It is important that branches have established systems to look after closed personal case files: members have a right to inspect documents that we hold about them, under the Data Protection Act and PCS may need to access the papers if there are queries raised about our actions, or if a member claims that we acted negligently.
This can be done any time up to 6 years from the date that the last action was taken, so files need to be retained for at least that period. PCS best practice is for personal case files to be retained for seven years. These arrangements need to be put in place and organised by the branch so that files are still properly managed even if the representative who dealt with the case ceases to be a rep or leaves employment.