Blog

Can employees bring a support person to formal meetings?

05/05/2022

For most employees, attending a formal meeting relating to their employment is a daunting experience. Formal meetings could include a meeting to discuss an employee’s performance or as part of an investigation into an employee’s conduct, such as disciplinary and termination meetings. Having a support person is often valuable to offer support and ensure the employee’s workplace rights are protected at the meeting.

A support person could be a family member, friend, trusted colleague, lawyer or union representative.

Do employees have a right to have a support person?

There is no law obliging employers to allow support persons to attend meetings however, refusal will become a relevant consideration when an employee asks to have a support person present in a discussion relating to dismissal and the employer refuses.

The request for a support person must be at the initiative of the employee. Employers are not required to offer an employee the opportunity to have a support person present when they are considering dismissing them.

In considering whether a dismissal was unfair, the Fair Work Commission will take into account any unreasonable refusal by the employer to allow the employee to bring a support person to assist in meetings relating to the dismissal.

It is important to note that the Fair Work Act only prohibits unreasonable refusal of a support person. Employers can refuse a support person if there’s a conflict of interest or if they have a personal stake in the outcome. For example, if an employee wants to bring in a colleague who was involved in the incident being investigated. Other factors that may be considered unreasonable refusal include whether sufficient notice is given to allow the employee to organise a support person and whether the employee requires a support person due to a language barrier.

What can a support person do?

A support person’s role is to provide moral and emotional support for the employee who is facing performance or disciplinary action or termination of employment. They are not there to act as an advocate presenting or defending a case on behalf of the employee.

While they are not there to advocate or answer questions on behalf of the employee, it may be appropriate for the support person to seek clarification for the employee if a question is not understood or to ask for a break. A support person can also offer advice to the employee throughout the meeting and should take notes of what is said.