Articles and Case Studies

I’ve Been Asked to Attend a Meeting

27 Feb 2015

Julian Walter 110x137

by Dr Julian Walter

Man with crossed arms speaking to woman

The first inkling of a dispute or serious investigation may arise when you are called in for a meeting with your employer. Alternatively, you may already be well aware of the matter by the time you are asked to attend the meeting. It is important to appreciate that not all such meetings are as serious as may first appear.

The fear of the unknown and loss of control, coupled with anxiety over your future employment prospects, can make this period a terribly stressful time.  
 
As noted by Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

The information below aims to provide you with a better understanding of what processes you might face and what preparations may assist you in beginning to deal with, and take control of, the challenges ahead.

Call MDA National

Our Professional Indemnity Insurance Policy includes cover for employment disputes and investigations relating to the provision of health care, as per the terms and conditions listed under the policy.

Once you have a reasonable understanding of the situation (consider jotting down a brief chronology to aid your understanding), consideration of all the issues below should include a discussion with our Medico-legal Advisory Services team on 1800 011 255. The earlier these discussions occur, the sooner we can assist you.

Obtain the relevant workplace policy

If the meeting relates to a complaint, investigation or disciplinary process, it is likely that the process itself is governed by a policy document. You should request, in advance of the meeting, a copy of the policy document(s) so you can understand the upcoming steps in the process. You should forward a copy to your MDA National adviser.

Know the agenda

There are a number of important logistical matters you should attend to before the meeting. Know when the meeting will be, where it will be held and who is attending. Ensure you are able to attend the meeting and that your usual work role will be covered by someone else so you can give the matter your full attention. You should be provided with sufficient time to prepare if you are expected to present information at the meeting, otherwise explore whether the meeting can be reasonably deferred.

It is essential that you know the purpose of the meeting. Clarify this in advance – this may include what will be discussed at the meeting. In some cases, you will not know the nature and substance of the complaint, investigation or disciplinary procedure including what allegations are being made against you, prior to attending the meeting. If so, consider advising the meeting organisers that you will only attend on the basis that you will be provided with this necessary information during the meeting, but you will not be responding to this information until a later date (in person, by discussion or in writing). This enables you to properly consider the issues, allegations and evidence, and then obtain advice before responding.

Explore what options you have for responding – formal meeting, informal meeting, written response and other alternatives to face-to-face communications. Written responses allow for careful deliberation; however, a written response may not be necessary or appropriate in all circumstances.

Support person

The right to be accompanied by a support person at a meeting will be inherent in many workplace policies and is a requirement under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) if the discussions relate to dismissal.

A support person will generally not be able to advocate on your behalf, but can offer physical and emotional assistance. The support person can call “time out” during the meeting if they perceive this may be of benefit to you. This can be a useful strategy to give you time to gather your thoughts or obtain advice.

The choice of support person is an important consideration. Whether it is a colleague, a medico-legal adviser from MDA National or a lawyer, each will send a different kind of message. The early attendance of lawyers may be necessary; however you should consider carefully what sort of adverse inference or impact this might have on negotiations. You may need to discuss this with your adviser.

Procedural fairness

Procedural fairness1 (or “natural justice”) is a legal principle that refers to the procedures adopted by decision makers in reaching an outcome, rather than the actual outcome reached. Procedural fairness will generally apply to any decision that negatively affects the rights or interests of an individual subject to an adverse decision, unless there is a clearly expressed contrary intent under law or policy. Breach of procedural fairness can enable a decision to be reviewed.

There are three main obligations:

Hearing rule
The right to present your case at a fair hearing after being informed of the case against you.

Rule against bias
The decision maker must be impartial and not have a personal interest in the outcome.

No evidence rule
The decision must be based not on speculation, but on logically probative evidence, i.e. evidence that has a factual basis relevant to the matter.

The meeting itself

Plan to meet with your support person before the meeting to discuss any last minute issues or tactics. Ensure the support person is prepared to take notes.

As outlined above, consider whether the initial meeting with the employer can be restricted to an information gathering exercise, enabling you to respond later after appropriate consideration of the issues. This helps to prevent you from being “ambushed” during the meeting and having to respond to questions you are not prepared for.

Conclusion

With proper planning and advice, a meeting may be a much less daunting experience. You may be able to significantly improve your position and the way in which the matter proceeds. You are also likely to benefit from having a greater understanding of both the process and issues involved.

Ensure you have appropriate professional and medico-legal assistance and personal succour. Seek early support for any health issues that may arise.

 

Dr Julian Walter
Medico-legal Adviser
MDA National


Reference

1. Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. Legal Practice Note: Procedural Fairness/Natural Justice. 31 January 2013. LPN 17.

 
Complaints and Adverse Events, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Practice Manager Or Owner, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery
 

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