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The Rights and Role of a Support Person

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Workplace Investigations, What Are Your Rights?

A support person is someone that an employee can nominate to provide them emotional support during a meeting, particularly in relation to a workplace investigation or dismissal.

Importantly, a support person is not an advocate or representative. They cannot speak on your behalf, and their role is solely to provide support and reassurance. For example, if you are asked a question during a meeting, your support person cannot answer the question for you.

Nevertheless, a support person may be able to fulfil other roles that do not interfere with the workplace investigation meeting. For example, a support person may be able to take notes on the meeting. A support person may also be able to act as an intermediary between yourself and those presiding over the meeting. If you are feeling too emotionally distraught, your support person may be able to request a short break so you can recover.

Importance Of A Support Person

The importance of a support person was recently highlighted by the Fair Work Commission in Goss v Health Generation Pty Ltd.[1] At paragraph 48 of the decision, Deputy President Clancy explained:

Support persons have an important and useful role to play when involved in investigatory and disciplinary matters in the workplace. While a support person is not an advocate per se and should not hijack a lawful and reasonable process or answer for an employee, I do not subscribe to the absolute view that they should only be seen and not heard. This is because there may be circumstances in which an employee might be experiencing difficulty in comprehending aspects of the process or an employer might be misconstruing an explanation and the support person present can help improve the quality of the dialogue. 

Deputy President Clancy

This decision by Clancy DP affirms that although support persons cannot advocate on behalf of the employee, their role is important to maintaining the fairness of workplace investigatory and disciplinary matters. Clancy DP noted that support persons are not expected to be ‘seen and not heard’, meaning that a support person does not completely lack a voice in such meetings, but they can speak to help an employee understand what is being said or clarify miscommunication.

Who can be my support person?

A support person can be anyone chosen by the employee, such as:

  • A work colleague
  • A family member, partner or spouse
  • A friend
  • An industrial or union representative
  • A lawyer or paid agent
The Rights and Role of a Support Person, Unfair Dismissal Australia
Its important your support person acts professionally

Why are support persons allowed in meetings?

Any meeting where an investigation, discipline or termination are discussed can be very stressful. Such meetings often feel like an interrogation, with the employee facing one or multiple managers, supervisors, owners or HR representatives. A support person is present to neutralize this imbalance and make an employee feel that they have someone on their side.

Am I entitled to a support person?

Employees have a right to request a support person in any discussions relating to workplace investigations, potential dismissal or other disputes, including general protection related matters. An employer cannot unreasonably refuse the request.

However, there is no obligation on an employer to inform the employee that they have a right to request a support person. Instead, the employee must positively seek to enforce the right themselves.

Moreover, there is also no obligation on an employer to provide the employee with a support person.

S 387 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) describes circumstances which point towards an unfair dismissal. One such circumstance, at s 387(d), is whether the employer unreasonably refused an employee’s request for a support person. This means that if you are dismissed and your request for a support person was refused without reason, you may have a case for unfair dismissal. It should be noted factor alone may not be enough to prove a whole unfair dismissal case, but it may certainly be symptomatic of a lack of procedural fairness or a harsh outcome. As described by the Explanatory Memorandum to the Fair Work Act (which explains what the section means):

This factor will only be a relevant consideration when an employee asks to have a support person present in a discussion relating to dismissal and the employer unreasonably refuses. It does not impose a positive obligation on employers to offer an employee the opportunity to have a support person present when they are considering dismissing them. It will be one factor FWA must consider when determining whether a dismissal was unfair, having regard to all of the circumstances, including the capacity of the employee to respond to the allegations put to him or her without such a support person being present.[2]

Explanatory Memorandum to the Fair Work Act

As aforementioned, a support person is not an advocate. Therefore, if an employee requests an advocate, but this is refused by the employer, this would unlikely amount to procedural unfairness or constitute an unfair dismissal. This was affirmed in Appeal by Victorian Association for the Teaching of English Inc [2014] FWCFB 613.[3]

What if I don’t know what the meeting will be about?

If you don’t know what the meeting is about, but it appears it will be in relation to disciplinary proceedings or allegations of misconduct, then it is worthwhile exercising your right to request a support person just in case. For example, if the notice to attend the meeting states that it is in relation to ‘serious misconduct’ or ‘allegations’, or otherwise appears serious in nature, dismissal may be a possible disciplinary outcome. Even if you are unsure about whether you will be dismissed, it may still be prudent to request a support person anyway, especially considering the employer is not obligated to inform you of your right to a support person.

When might a refusal be reasonable?

Obviously, there will be no refusal where the employee does not request a support person at all.[4]

Other circumstances where the refusal may be reasonable include where the employee requests on extremely short notice for the meeting to be postponed so their support person can attend, even though the employer provided adequate notice of the meeting.[5]

Another example is where an employee’s choice of support person was unavailable, but the employee did not request an adjournment of the meeting.[6]

When might a refusal be unreasonable?

To reiterate, a refusal of the request for a support person is unreasonable, the employee may have a case for unfair dismissal. Such circumstances may include where:

  • The employer denies the employees’ choice of a support person, as occurred in Dewson v Boom Logistics Ltd.[7] In this case, the employee chose a particular union representative as their support person, but the employer refused and nominated a different union representative to be the employee’s support person.
  • The employer refuses a reasonable request to reschedule a meeting so the support person can attend, as occurred in Laker v Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited.[8] In this case, it was found that the request to reschedule was not an unreasonable burden on the employer and could have been accommodated.
  • The employer denies the type of support person chosen by the employee, as occurred in Lankam v Federal Express (Australia) Pty Ltd T/A Fed Ex.[9]In this case, the employee requested a union representative as their support person, but the employer refused and limited the employee from choosing a support person from the company’s human resources department.
  • representative as their support person, but the employer refused and nominated a different union representative to be the employee’s support person.

If you have been dismissed and you believe you were unreasonably refused a support person, you may have a case of unfair dismissal. Call 1800 333 666 for an obligation-free consultation about your options.


[1] [2010] FWA 5713. Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2010fwa5713.htm.

[2] [2011] FWA 6230. Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2011fwa6230.htm.

If you have been dismissed, subject to a workplace investigation, general protections adverse action or you believe you were unreasonably refused a support person, you may have a case of unfair dismissal. Call 1800 333 666 for an obligation-free consultation about your options. We at A Whole New Approach are here for you, we are not lawyers, but the nations leading workplace advisors, we have our “finger on the pulse” for you


[1] [2021] FWC 1751, [48] (Clancy DP). Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2021fwc1751.htm.

[2] Explanatory Memorandum to Fair Work Bill 2008 [1542].

[3] Available at: http://www6.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/cth/FWCFB/2014/613.html

[4] Mabior v Baiada Group Pty Ltd T/A Adelaide Poultry [2011] FWA 5778. Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2011fwa5778.htm; see also Dissanayake v Busways Blacktown Pty Ltd [2011] FWA 3549. Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2011fwa3549.htm.

[5] Jalea v Sunstate Airlines (Queensland) Pty Ltd T/A Qantas Link [2012] FWA 1360. Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2012fwa1360.htm

[6] Mydlowski v AAA Cleaning, Security Maintenance Pty Ltd [2010] FWA 1810. Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2010fwa1810.htm.

[7] [2012] FWA 9027. Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2012fwa9027.htm.

[8] [2010] FWA 5713. Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2010fwa5713.htm.

[9] [2011] FWA 6230. Available at: https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2011fwa6230.htm.

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