What is the role of the sup­port per­son in a dis­ci­pli­nary meeting?

Employ­ers usu­al­ly know that they have to allow an employ­ee to have a sup­port per­son accom­pa­ny them whilst they are being coun­selled. How­ev­er, what is less clear is the role of that sup­port per­son in the meeting.

Last week, the Full Bench hand­ed down a deci­sion that clar­i­fied what the role of the sup­port per­son is. Sim­ply put they are not there to act as an advo­cate. The role of sup­port per­son is to take notes on the employ­ee’s behalf and to act as a sound­ing board for the employ­ee, but their role is not to extend any fur­ther than that.

This is dif­fer­ent where there is a union rep­re­sen­ta­tive involved. A union rep­re­sen­ta­tive, is able to inter­cede on behalf of employ­ees, how­ev­er this must be done appro­pri­ate­ly and respectfully.

If a sup­port per­son insists on being an advo­cate, you are enti­tled to cur­tail the meet­ing, explain the process and give them anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty. If an employ­ee lacks the abil­i­ty to prop­er­ly com­mu­ni­cate through a meet­ing for exam­ple they may have lan­guage or dis­abil­i­ty issues, then it would be seen as fair­er to allow some­one to advo­cate on their behalf. 

In the case con­cerned, the Full Bench decid­ed that an Exec­u­tive Direc­tor who was under­go­ing dis­ci­pli­nary coun­selling was enti­tled to have a sup­port per­son but not enti­tled to have an advo­cate on their behalf in their meeting.

We always rec­om­mend that employ­ers in the let­ter invit­ing the employ­ee to the final dis­ci­pli­nary meet­ing have a state­ment to the fol­low­ing effect:

Of course, you are enti­tled to bring a sup­port per­son with you to the meeting.”

Then you have clear evi­dence of your com­pli­ance with that prac­tice. If an employ­ee choos­es not to bring one then pro­ceed regard­less. How­ev­er if an employ­ee wants to delay a meet­ing by a day or so to have one present, it can be risky to refuse such a request and press on. How­ev­er, the Full Bench went on to say that a request by an employ­ee to delay the meet­ing for four days in order to have some­one avail­able was unrea­son­able and the employ­er did not have to agree to it.