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Having a support person: Know your rights

Authored by Employment Law team members Christie Toy and Nicholas Jackman.

Attending a meeting with your employer where termination is a possibility is an extremely daunting and stressful experience. Ideally, you will go through your working life without ever having to attend a termination meeting. However, it is important to be aware of your rights as an employee, particularly regarding support persons, in case the situation does arise.

Does my employer have to offer me a support person?

Many employees are under the impression that it is the duty of the employer to provide a support person ahead of a termination meeting. This, however, is not the case.

At law, there is no requirement for an employer to expressly offer you a support person for discussions of serious allegations. Instead, the law is concerned with whether the employer has unreasonably refused to provide you with a support person.

This means there is no obligation on your employer to expressly offer you a support person before attending a meeting on dismissal. Instead, you must be proactive and actively request the presence of a support person.   If your request is refused on an unreasonable basis, this may amount to a claim for unfair dismissal.

Importantly, your right to have a support person present only arises in relation to discussions involving termination of your employment.


What is the role of a support person?

A support person does not participate in the substance of the meeting. Their role is not to advocate or contribute, but to be a supportive figure for the employee.

Termination meetings are often intimidating, confronting and distressing, and having a support person present can help to:

  • Create a power balance between the employer and employee;
  • Keep accurate meeting minutes;
  • Give confidence to the employee; and
  • Ensure the employer behaves fairly and reasonably.

What if I am asked to be a support person?

If you are the support person for a friend, colleague or relative, it is important to understand your place in the meeting. You are there to provide emotional support and guidance by your presence alone, not by interjecting or involving yourself.

It can be an extremely uncomfortable time for the employee, and having you there validating their concerns and encouraging them to be honest and open is more valuable than one might imagine.

Get the support you need

If you are heading into a meeting with your employer involving serious allegations that may lead to your dismissal, speak up and don't be afraid to ask for a support person.

Having someone on your side can make the world of difference, and can give you the confidence to stand up for your rights and ensure your dismissal is fair, just and reasonable.

Read more Employment Law and Workplace Relations news here.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: September 26, 2018.

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