Thursday, 17 November 2016

I've agreed to be a support person, but I don't know what that means

As a support person you play an important role supporting, but not advocating, for your friend/colleague. First let's start with some background on the role of a support person

Why employers offer a support person

The Fair Work Act (s387(d))  states that if an employer unreasonably refuses an employee's request for a support person to the present at a meeting which may lead to a dismissal, the dismissal may be considered harsh.
This does not mean that every meeting that you are invited to bring a support person to may lead to dismissal, many Companies offer a support person as good practice for any meetings that are part of an investigation (even where you are being interviewed as a witness) ,disciplinary process, or consultation on workplace changes (for example, that may lead to redundancy).

The role of a support person

The Fair Work Commission has given us some direction here. As a support person you:

  • need to be aware of confidentiality. It probably goes without saying, but you are required to keep the meeting confidential and not talk about it with others unless there is good reason (e.g. obtaining legal advice)
  • are not an advocate. This means that you are not to speak on behalf of the employee. You are there as a witness and support. 

Although you can't speak on behalf of the employee, you can speak to the employee and give them prompting/ideas/questions to ask. You should also keep good notes of the meeting. Your friend/colleague will have a thousand things running through his/her mind, so having notes to go back to is a good idea. You can ask for permission to record the meeting. If you do not ask permission and record the meeting, please first reference the relevant state/territory legislation regarding this, and also be aware that the Fair Work Commission generally views convert recordings in the workplace as unacceptable. 

Preparing for the meeting

It is a good idea to be prepared and ask your friend/colleague for any information they have regarding the meeting. This will help you both 'brainstorm' some questions that you may have prior to the meeting. You can then make sure before the end of the meeting that you have had these answered and you are clear on next steps.

Next Steps

Don't leave the room unless you are clear on what the next steps are. You shouldn't agree to anything on the spot (e.g. signing any documents, deciding between redeployment or redundancy), but have the opportunity to discuss and decide after the meeting.
If you are concerned about the way the matter is being handled, or the possible outcome, then it may be a good idea to seek some independent advice.

More workplace tips
Whether you are an employee or run your own business, we'd love for you to join us at Savvy Business Women, our Facebook group dedicated to information, collaboration and support.

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