What Is The Role Of A Support Person?
There are times when you might have to deal with a performance management process, a disciplinary issue, a restructure or workplace change, or an internal investigation when managing your people. These situations are often tense and stressful for all parties.
Traditionally, disciplinary meetings involved the employee on one side of the table and on the other side; supervisors, human resources, managers and sometimes, company owners. This type of setting is thought to create a power imbalance between the two parties.
A support person can provide emotional and psychological support to an employee in what can be a very stressful situation. The protection of an employee’s right to request a support person therefore helps with correcting this imbalance.
What is the role of a support person?
The role of a support person is to provide emotional support and reassurance for the employee.
- observe the proceedings and can assist with clarifying the process where required;
- can quietly prompt or give advice to the employee, including requesting a break if needed;
- must respect and maintain confidentiality of the matters discussed, at all times;
- can take notes to assist.
To support, but not represent
It is important to note that a support person is not an advocate. They do not attend disciplinary, investigative or termination meetings to answer questions on behalf of the employee or to act as their representative. This should be stated at the start of the meeting made clear to all parties.
If the support person begins to do anything contrary to the instructions you have given, don’t be afraid to politely halt the meeting and remind the support person of their role.
Who can be a support person?
A support person could be a work colleague, friend, family member or in some instances, an industrial representative.
Can an employer refuse a particular support person?
There are certain circumstances where it may not be appropriate for a particular person to take on this role. For example, it is not unreasonable to restrict co-workers or a manager from being a support person if might have had any involvement directly in the matter.
The confidentiality of disciplinary and termination meetings is extremely important in ensuring that company business is not disrupted, and for protecting general employee morale. All parties should be informed that upholding confidentiality is vital.
If a dismissal is actioned, the Fairwork Act 2009 (Cth) includes criteria which a tribunal or commission must take into account when determining if the dismissal was indeed unfair. Section 387(d) informs that one criterion is whether there was ‘any unreasonable refusal by the employer to allow the person to have a support person present to assist at any discussions relating to dismissal’.
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