Support persons in the investigation process
In this bulletin, we outline the role of the support person and how they can assist during the investigation process.
During an investigation, an employee or student may be requested to attend meetings or interviews.
While it is not necessary, it can be helpful to ask someone to attend with you to support you through the process.
The short story
A support person can offer emotional support and help keep the investigation process fair. In the course of an investigation, a support person has certain responsibilities including allowing the person they are supporting to speak for themselves and keeping information confidential.
Role of the support person
The role of the support person is to provide you with practical and emotional support. A support person is a witness to a meeting or interview, to safeguard against unfair practices.
A support person can act as an advisor and can request a pause in an interview to speak to you in private. In this event, the interview will be stopped and the investigator will allow you to speak to your support person in private.
A support person's role and contribution in an investigation context differs to their role and contribution in a general complaint.
Advance notice of a support person
You should provide the name of your support person to meeting participants prior to the commencement of the meeting or interview. This is important to:
- identify if a conflict exists that may jeopardise the investigation
- ensure the support person is accommodated in the meeting.
Choosing a support person
Your support person must not be a witness in the investigation or be any way involved in the investigation process.
A support person must be someone 18 years or older, and may be:
- a colleague
- a staff member
- an adult family member or friend
- a representative of a union
- a legal representative.
Although your support person can be a legal representative, during an interview they are not to act as a legal advocate including answering questions on your behalf or cross examining the investigator.
If a friend or family member is being considered as your support person, keep in mind that personal information may be disclosed during the interview that the support person may not have previously been aware of.
A support person’s availability should not contribute to any unreasonable delays in the investigation. An alternative support person will need to be identified if undue delay will result.
A person can decline to be a support person.
Benefits of a support person during an investigation
The form of support and assistance may vary according to the circumstances and could include:
- emotional support
- taking notes
- clarifying the process
- requesting a break
- suggesting that further advice is sought.
Having a support person is not compulsory and the choice rests solely with the person who wants to be supported.
Restrictions on support persons during meetings or interviews for an investigation
You may have previously used a support person to assist during the process of raising a complaint which can include the support person advocating on your behalf. The investigation process relies on direct evidence from you and a support person cannot involve themselves in an interview by answering questions on your behalf.
If the support person begins to involve themselves in a discussion during an interview or engages in unacceptable behaviour, the investigator may stop the interview.
Unacceptable behaviour may include, but is not limited to:
- aggressive or intimidating actions and language
- interjecting and/or redirecting the meeting or interview away from its purpose
- Not seeking the consent of all the parties before recording the meeting or interview.
What is said in meetings and interviews must remain confidential. If your support person is unable to agree to and maintain confidentiality about what is discussed they should not participate.