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Employee support person

You may ask a support person to accompany you to performance and conduct discussions, and other management enquiries or investigations.

A support person can provide emotional support, help with communication, take notes, and contribute to a resolution.

You can ask a work colleague, friend, family member, industrial representative (union officer), or lawyer to be your support person.

Conflicts of interest

Any of the above-mentioned people can be a support person unless they have a conflict of interest in the matter. For example, a conflict of interest may occur if you ask your colleague to act as a support person in an investigation and they are also a required to be a witness in the investigation.

Similarly, it is generally not appropriate for a supervisor or manager to act as your support person as there is likely to be a conflict between their role and duty to the organisation as a manager and acting as your support person.

Your employer may ask you to find a different person to support you if they consider a conflict of interest exists and should explain why they consider this to be the case.

You should consider asking a support person to accompany you to meetings to discuss:

  • poor performance
  • questionable conduct
  • workplace investigations (where you are being interviewed as either a witness or the subject)
  • decisions that have been made (e.g., an outcome to a disciplinary process)

Your employer should advise you in advance of the purpose of the meeting, and let you know that you may wish to bring a support person with you. Meetings should be scheduled with adequate notice to allow you to arrange a support person to attend with you. Reasonable requests to adjust meeting times to allow your support person to attend should be considered by your employer.

There are certain circumstances where having a support person is not appropriate or necessary, including:

  • workplace operational discussions
  • general employee meetings and information sessions.

If a support person and/or industrial representative attends a meeting, the meeting facilitator should clearly advise all attendees of the meeting expectations and confirm their role in the meeting. This should include what a support person can and cannot do to support you.

A support person can positively contribute by:

  • providing you with emotional support and reassurance
  • taking notes for you
  • seeking breaks to allow you to regain your composure, if needed

A support person should not speak on your behalf, or directly answer questions put to you. Generally, you will be required to respond directly to questions asked of you.

Industrial representative

In addition to the above, if you are a member of a union and ask a union officer to support you as an industrial representative the officer has a role to support your interests in line with industrial legislation and their union rules. For example, they might ask clarifying questions of the meeting facilitator, prompt you or give you advice to ensure the process you are part of is fair and adheres to industrial legislation.

There may still be occasions where only you can give evidence regarding matters or incidents. It is not the role of the industrial representative to provide direct evidence on your behalf or defend you regarding allegations relating to workplace performance or conduct matters.

Confidentiality

The meeting facilitator should remind everyone, including your support person, that they must maintain appropriate confidentiality to protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of the people involved. This includes not discussing the matter with work colleagues or those likely to have information relating to the matter.

Confidentiality requirements do not extend to industrial representatives carrying out their duties in representing your interests, for example in seeking further legal advice or representing you in a dispute around process.

Disruptive behaviour

If a support person becomes difficult or disruptive during a meeting, the meeting facilitator should remind them of their role and the expectations discussed at the beginning of the meeting. If it continues, the meeting facilitator may find it necessary to suspend the meeting to give you time to speak with your support person privately.

If the employee support person continues with their disruptive behaviour, you and the meeting facilitator might agree to:

  • continue the meeting without the support person
  • reschedule the meeting with an alternative support person
  • raise and address the questions in writing.