It’s Friday afternoon and Christine, who has a series of documented performance failures, is about to be dismissed by you. You are by no means looking forward to this awkward conversation, but can be comforted by the knowledge that you have complied with your obligations thus far — and that Christine has decided to accept your suggestion that she brings a support person to the meeting.
Discussions with team members relating to performance management, investigations and disciplinary action can be emotionally charged and taxing — for both parties. FWA clarified in 2014 that employers do not have to give prior notice of specific issues to be discussed in these meetings with employees, but that they are entitled to have a support person present. This person is not able to speak on their behalf but simply act as a support if required. This person could be a friend, colleague or family member.
Employees are entitled to have a support person present during a meeting related to performance management, investigations and disciplinary action. Failure to offer or allow an employee a support person in a meeting in relation to a dismissal can result in that dismissal being deemed unfair by FWA — and this is where things get really complicated and really expensive really quickly. Therefore, it is particularly important for employers to understand the role of a support person and when they must be afforded to an employee.
What does the support person do?
Make sure that you explain to the support person (and the employee) at the outset of the meeting that they are there to provide emotional support only and are not to speak on behalf of the employee. If they do not comply, they will be asked to leave.
So, can I deny a request for a support person?
There may be occasions where it is appropriate to deny a particular support person selected by the employee, for example when the support person is:
- In a more senior role than the person conducting the meeting
- Personally involved in the issues being addressed in the meeting
- Someone who may be disruptive to the process, such as an ex-employee
If you do have reason to deny the employee’s selection of a support person, be sure to make it clear that they are free to make an alternative choice.
The Employee Matters website has a variety of free tools and templates to refer to and download, plus our Hire to Fire Toolkit (on a monthly membership plan) which has just about every policy and template you might need throughout the employee lifecycle.