Preparation for meeting with the employee is arguably the most important step in ensuring a fair process, so it is crucial you are properly prepared.
Setting up the meeting
How should I invite the employee to the meeting?
Send a meeting invite in writing to the employee, even if you have verbally asked the employee to the meeting. This creates a written record of the meeting and forms part of a documented process. It can be as simple as a calendar invite in Microsoft Outlook.
How much notice should I give the employee of the meeting?
Give the employee at least 24 hours’ notice of the meeting. This gives them enough time to see the meeting request and find a support person if they wish to bring one, whilst allowing the meeting to go ahead in a timely manner.
For shift workers, more notice can be given to ensure they receive the meeting invite. Ideally the meeting should be scheduled for the next time the employee is rostered to work.
If possible, it is good practice to meet with the employee within a week of the meeting invite being sent.
When should I send the meeting invite?
There is no set time for the meeting invite to be sent. However, consideration should be given to the stress the employee may feel between receiving the meeting invite and the meeting itself. Accordingly, you should try and minimise any negative impact on the employee.
An example of a bad time would be a meeting invite sent late on Friday afternoon for a meeting to be held first thing Monday morning. In this example, the invite will likely cause the employee to have a stressful weekend.
Who should I invite to the meeting?
Invite the employee and any other manager or human resources personnel you believe should be present. You should have an internal management meeting first so that everyone knows what the meeting is about and their role during the meeting e.g. talking or taking notes.
How long should the meeting be set for?
Good practice is to set the meeting for 1 hour. This indicates to the employee that sufficient time has been allowed for a discussion to occur and their views to be heard. Of course, the meeting may go for longer if the issues require more time for discussion.
Where should I hold the meeting?
If possible, a discrete office or meeting room. Consideration should be given to the impact on the employee if they were seen to be in a meeting with you (and HR) and the possible speculation other employees might have as to the reason.
What should the meeting invite title be?
Keep the wording of the meeting invite neutral e.g. “Meeting regarding your ongoing employment” or “Meeting regarding your performance”.
Do not have wording such as “Meeting regarding your poor performance”, which indicates a decision has already been made on the employee’s standard of performance, thus making the meeting redundant.
What should the meeting invite content include?
Good practice is to list the issues you would like to discuss with the employee. It should be brief and in neutral language.
You may wish to attach a copy of the relevant policy e.g. Code of Conduct. Otherwise, a copy of the relevant policy can be given to the employee in the meeting.
The meeting invite content should also include an offer for the employee to bring a support person with them to the meeting.
Employee response to meeting invite
What if the employee declines the meeting invite?
Speak to the employee and find out their reason for declining the meeting. If it’s a legitimate reason e.g. they are on leave, then reschedule the meeting.
If the employee does not have a good reason for declining the meeting and they simply don’t want to attend, let them know the meeting invite is an employer direction. If they again refuse, advise them that disciplinary action may be taken against them for refusing a reasonable and lawful direction to attend a meeting with their manager.
It may be helpful to explain to the employee that the meeting is an opportunity for them to respond and “give their side of the story” and if they don’t attend, a decision may be made on the available information to you, without the input of their response.
What if the employee wants to postpone the meeting?
A common scenario is the employee asks to postpone the meeting until their chosen support person e.g. union official, is available to attend with them. Good practice is to try and accommodate any reasonable requests to delay a meeting so the employee can bring their chosen support person with them. However, if the delay is unreasonable e.g. more than a week, then you can refuse and advise the employee that the meeting will proceed and they can bring a different support person.
Note: The test in relation to support persons under the unfair dismissals regime is whether there was any unreasonable refusal by the employer to allow an employee to have a support person with them.
A delaying tactic is often used by employees who know the meeting will likely have adverse consequences for them and they want a meeting postponed to put off potential disciplinary action. If this occurs, you can again let them know that the meeting is an employer direction and if they don’t attend the meeting, then disciplinary action may be taken against them for refusing a reasonable and lawful direction to attend a meeting with their manager. Just remember, they cannot hold you over a barrel through avoidance and you can be firm either by directing them or proceeding with the process without their input.
What if the employee asks me what the meeting is about?
Resist entering into an informal discussion with the employee on what you want to discuss with them as this defeats the purpose of holding the meeting. You can reiterate the content of your meeting invite to them and state you will discuss it further with them in the formal meeting.
Does the employee have to nominate their support person prior to the meeting?
No, the employee does not have to advise you if they are bringing a support person or who they will bring as a support person prior to the meeting.
In Part 4 of our Managing Poor Performance series, I will deal with some of the common questions and scenarios that may arise during and after a performance meeting, regardless of the specifics of the poor performance issue.
Article by Ni Gao
Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended to be a guide only and should not replace specialist advice.