We are often contacted by concerned parents, partners, and friends, of employees subject to disciplinary action or workplace investigations.

A lot is said about the rights and obligations of employees and employers within these processes – but what about the support person?

Here are some of our top tips for support people from our employment law team:

1.  Take notes

If anything is improper, your notes could form the evidential basis for a future personal grievance (a legal claim relating to how the employer has treated the employee).  Ensure you note down who is there, the date, time, location, key points discussed and by whom. Recording the meeting provides good evidence of what was said. Do not rely on the other party to do this. Recordings can mysteriously “go missing” or get “accidentally” wiped if the other party does not want to release a copy. Make your own recording.

2.  But not too many…

You also need to be mindful of the possibility the employer will request a copy of your “minutes” so stick to what is said and do not add comments or notes to yourself.

3.  Act as a safety valve

Sometimes things need to be “got off the chest”. You can provide a safe space before the meeting and away from the other party for feelings to be voiced that may be better not said to the other party.

4.  Help confirm the details

Where will the meeting be? Is that somewhere that your friend or family member feels comfortable? Would somewhere else work better?

What about the meeting time. Is it too soon? Is more information needed before the meeting? If so, it may be appropriate to delay the meeting so that information or advice can be sought.

5.  Help with strategy 

It is useful to go through the key points before hand.  What accusations have been made? What’s the best response? What other information supports that response?

6.  Help get key points across 

It is very, very, common for the subject of a disciplinary investigation to go off topic and talk about issues other than the accusations made. This is even more likely if the employee’s integrity is challenged. Help remind them of your strategy, and the key points that need to be made. Be prepared to present a summary of the points so the other party gets them even if your relation or friend has not got everything out clearly.

7.  Help avoid conflict

Your role could be to help avoid conflict. Remember, these people need to work together after this meeting.

Use common conflict reducing tactics to help dampen any flare ups. Five common strategies are:

  1. To describe how the other side is acting (“You are making assumptions on that point.”).
  2. To describe feelings (“When you say “…” it makes him feel like you aren’t listening to what he’s saying”).
  3. To state what’s to be discussed (“I would like you to focus on the allegations in this letter”).
  4. To state the consequences (“If we stick to the allegations and her responses, we will be able to resolve this. If we go into all these other points, this will escalate”).
  5. To ask the other side for advice (“What do you see as the best way to resolve this?”).

8.  Do not fill in the gaps for the other side

If they are being unreasonable or have forgotten something unhelpful to your friend do not fill in the gaps. Make a note of their attitude or refusal to agree to reasonable requests e.g. for information or more time to reply, but do not threaten action unless something is agreed to. Save those points for when they can be used to show the unreasonable attitude of the other party.

9.  Do a debrief

After the meeting, talk about what happened and what the next steps will be. You may need to go and talk to someone else, or get some more information.