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In New Zealand, the right for an employee to have a support person in a range of different settings is well established and important to be aware of. Formal meetings like a disciplinary meeting or similar process can be intimidating for employees. Having a support person, whether that be a family member, friend or lawyer, can help employees through that process. Having a support person in a disciplinary meeting is often advantageous for an employer as well. This article will set out:

  • what a support person is;
  • their role in employment meetings; and 
  • what employers should remember about support people and the disciplinary process.

What Is A Support Person?

A support person is someone an employee chooses to bring to a meeting or other event at work. Anyone can be a support person, but common choices includes a:

  • representative from the employee’s union;
  • lawyer or employment representative;
  • friend or family member; or
  • trusted workmate (though often bringing someone from outside the workplace is preferable).

Bringing a support person along means the person in question can:

  • give support;
  • help with understanding of the issues; and
  • take notes so that the employee can focus on the meeting.

Employment meetings or processes can be extremely stressful for employees and having someone there to support them can make a big difference to the employee. They do not necessarily need to bring professional skills such as legal knowledge. Sometimes, what an employee needs is emotional support.

What Employers Should Remember About Support People

Support people can be aids to the business, not just the employee, even though they are appearing to support one side. This is because a productive, reasonable discussion is always preferable to one where emotions are high. Having a support person is often helpful and conducive to having a better discussion.

There are a number of things to remember in regards to the process where an employee can bring a support person:

Allow a Support Person

Never tell the employee they cannot bring a support person, especially when the law requires you to give them that option. When the law specifically does not make that requirement, you still have a good faith obligation to your employees.

Provide Time

Give the employee enough time to find the right support person. You do not just need to tell your employee that they are entitled to a support person but also make sure that they are told that it is in their interests to obtain a competent representative. 

For example, you should not tell an employee late Friday afternoon that there will be a disciplinary meeting first thing Monday morning and that they are entitled to a support person at that meeting. Realistically, in this situation you would be limiting who the employee can have as their support person, so you should give the employee more time.

Put it in Writing

Record that the employee has been provided the opportunity to have a support person present at the meeting in question. Where your employee chooses not to have a support person present, you should make a note of that fact and also seek their reason. This reason should also be included in your interview notes.

Support Person Participation

The support person is allowed to actively participate in the meeting on the employee’s behalf.  The support person is not present just to provide a witness for the employee and can have a speaking role. Here, the support person needs to be able to:

  • speak on behalf of the employee;
  • intervene in the process where required or asked; and
  • give explanations where necessary.

Key Takeaways

The role of a support person in a disciplinary meeting depends on the circumstances and the skills of the support person. Their general job is to help an employee through an employment process or meeting. Employment processes can often be stressful and difficult for employees. As such, employers have an obligation to ensure that those employees get the support they need. This involves:

  • telling the employee they can bring a support person;
  • giving them sufficient time to find one; and
  • giving that person the chance to be active and helpful in a meeting.

If you want to know more about employee entitlements, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

FAQs

What is a support person?

A support person is someone an employee chooses to bring to a meeting or other event at work to support them in some way (emotionally, with legal advice, etc). Anyone can be a support person. 

Can support people speak in meetings?

Yes, they can. They can speak on the employee’s behalf, intervene when necessary and give explanations when needed.

Can employers refuse to allow employees to bring support people?

No, in almost all cases as an employer you are required to allow your employees to bring support people where appropriate. In fact, you should encourage employees to seek competent support people in their own interest.

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