When do you need a support person in an HR meeting?

Employees should be allowed to bring a support person to any formal meeting relating to their employment including disciplinary, termination, or workplace investigation meetings. Most commonly employees will bring a colleague, union representative, lawyer, friend, or family member as a support person.  A support person is invited to act as a silent supportive bystander to the meeting, who may take notes, act as a witness or offer advice or emotional support to the employee. The support person is not permitted to engage in the meeting, represent the employee or interrupt.

The importance of offering a support person.

When conducting discipline meetings the employee should be formally invited 24 hours in advance so they know what the meeting is about and that they can bring a support person.  Refusing a support person or allocating an employee a support person can result in a lack of procedural fairness. However, it may be appropriate to rule out a support person if there is a conflict of interest. For this reason, managers are not always an appropriate choice. Similarly during an investigation, a support person cannot be someone who is also involved in the investigation.

Challenges with support people.

A support person may step beyond their role as a silent witness during meetings, especially if they have an emotional connection to the employee such as a friend or family member. To avoid this, begin the meeting by informing the support person of their role and the boundaries. If even after this, they interrupt you may stop the meeting until they are prepared to toe the line.

It is important to note that the employee can stop the meeting to speak in private with their support person if they need to, which can limit the chances of the support person interjecting. As well as staying silent during the meeting support people need to know they are bound by the same confidentiality as the employee. Therefore, a support person should not discuss the matter with anyone not in the meeting. This is important when a colleague is a support person, as breaching confidentiality could result in disciplinary action.

For assistance with grievance and disciplinary procedures contact our expert HR consultants on (08) 9316 9896 or email enquiries@processworx.com.au.

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Written by Danielle McNamee


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