You may have heard of the term “support person” as this becomes more common practice in the workplace. As an employer, it is good practice to offer an employee the opportunity to bring a support person to any meeting related to performance management, disciplinary action, potential redundancy or investigation.

What is a support person?

A support person is someone who is able to provide emotional support to the employee during what might be a difficult meeting for the employee. Their role is to provide emotional support, but they cannot speak on behalf of the employee, ask or answer any questions, or join in on any of the discussions.

Prior to commencing a meeting where a support person is present, it is a good idea to make the person aware of the role of a support person, and to outline what their responsibilities are so they’re less likely to disrupt or hinder the objectives of the meeting.

What is the risk if I don’t offer an employee the opportunity to bring a support person?

As an employer, it is important to manage difficult conversations with employees with fairness and sensitivity, particularly where there is the potential for their employment to be terminated.

If, as a result of an investigation or performance management for example, it’s decided that you’ll end the person’s employment, and the employee then lodges an unfair dismissal complaint, the Fair Work Commission will assess whether the termination was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. During their assessment, they will consider whether there was an unreasonable denial of a support person at any discussions relating to the termination of employment. If there was, the employer may be liable for compensation or reinstatement of the employee and potentially, the business may be issued with a fine. This is why we recommend making a standard practice of offering employees the option to bring a support person to certain types of meetings.

What can I do if a support person is disruptive or speaking up in a meeting?

A support person will often be a friend, parent, sibling, or spouse to the employee. Naturally, the support person may have an emotional response to the information being discussed and, in some cases, become quite disruptive during the meeting and try to engage in conversation, or ask or answer any questions on the employee’s behalf.

In these situations, to ensure the objectives of the meeting are not disrupted, it is a good idea to politely remind the support person that their role is to provide emotional support to the employee. If the disruption from the support person is significant, you may also like to warn the support person that if they continue to disrupt the meeting, they will be asked to leave. If the disruption does continue, you can request the support person to leave.

Can I refuse a request to bring a support person?

There may be occasions where you can refuse a request to bring a support person.

These may include:

  • If the support person is involved in the issue or investigation being addressed in the meetings;
  • If it is anticipated that the person will be disruptive during the meeting such as an ex-employee; or
  • If the support person is in a more senior role than the person conducting the meeting.

If the employees request to bring a support person to a meeting is denied, it is best practice to put the denial in writing and also offer the employee the opportunity to bring an alternative, more appropriate support person.

How much notice should I give an employee if they want to bring a support person?

To ensure that the employee has enough time to organise a support person, it is best practice to provide a minimum of 24 hours’ notice prior to the meeting. If the employee hasn’t been able to organise a support person in the allocated time, it would be a good idea to postpone the meeting for another 24 hours. If sufficient notice has been provided and/or a postponement has already been granted, it is appropriate for the employer to advise the employee that the meeting will go ahead regardless whether a support person is present.

What if they don’t bring a support person?

It is perfectly ok if an employee has chosen not to bring a support person however, it is a good idea to acknowledge this during the meeting to confirm that the employee does not wish for one to be present. It is also best practice to document that the employee has declined the opportunity to bring a support person in the meeting notes.

If you’re looking for assistance in managing meetings where a support person may be present, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team, via the chat box here or calling us on 08 6150 0043.

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