Are you getting it right? Do your managers feel confident note taking at formal employee meetings?
In a recent Employment Tribunal claim, part of the employee’s complaint was that the notes taken by the Company during various formal meetings, both before and after dismissal, only included information the Company deemed relevant to its case. Apparently, all other aspects of the discussions that had taken place were ignored. The notes, the Claimant therefore suggested, were inadequate for the purpose they were intended for and demonstrated a lack of professionalism on the part of the employer.
Is this right? Can you choose what to include or exclude? And if your notes are a bit brief or muddled, will it reflect badly on you at Tribunal (should an employee or ex-employee bring a claim)?
As a business, we often find that clients like to ‘rustle up’ an internal note taker; someone who just happens to be free at the necessary time (rather than use an experienced note taker). It’s certainly cost effective, but is this the right approach? Absolutely, provided they know what they are doing!
If you are using an internal note taker, do they (HR, managers or even admin staff sometimes) know what your formal notes need to include and also what depth of information needs to be covered to both protect your organisation and ensure your employee doesn’t throw ‘unprofessional and inadequate note taking’ into the ring alongside their claim of sex and race discrimination?
Unless you want to ask us to run a half day training course for your HR or managers on professional note taking skills, here are a few of our thoughts on note taking to keep you on the straight and narrow:
Note taking – what’s the structure?
At the start of the meeting, note the date and the time it begins. Include who is attending (allocating initials of each to be used during the actual note taking), their role in the meeting i.e. Chair, employee representative etc. and their job title. Set out the reason for the meeting. Before the meeting takes place, it is often possible for the note taker and meeting Chair to agree what the opening statement will be and to have this pre-written into the notes. The opening statement will include reference to why the meeting is taking place, the right to be accompanied, why notes are being taken and when they will be sent to the employee, the right to ask for breaks, how long the meeting is expected to last, what will happen after the meeting etc.
Should notes be verbatim?
There is no requirement in law for meeting notes to be verbatim, and we recommend that there is no need to do this. This can be costly as not many note takers have the skill/ability to record every word whilst in the meeting and/or typing up notes from a recording can be hugely time consuming and challenging, especially if there are strong accents involved or people speaking over each other. However, notes should be a summary of the discussion, capturing all key points made.
What if a note taker falls behind the discussion?
They should be encouraged by the meeting Chair at the start to ask for a break, or ask for people to slow down, whenever needed. It is a good idea if the Chair also regularly checks with the note taker that they are keeping up because when emotions rise or discussions get complicated it can be very challenging taking down all the key points. Interestingly, trying to summarise a conversation when note taking is almost as time consuming as trying to write down every single word.
What are the key things note takers should be listening out for?
Note takers should be especially attuned to comments that could be considered to be a grievance or complaint (where not previously raised) and ensure that notes about what is said in the meeting are clear and detailed. Also, where employees are presenting details about what happened, key points, dates, people etc. need to be clearly recorded. Also, if a question that has been asked has not been answered by the other side (often apparent when note taking) the note taker might point this out to ensure clarity in the notes.
Should you allow audio recording?
Our answer to this used to be ‘no,’ but life has moved on and recording is so common now that we suggest you agree to a recording if the employee requests it. BUT you need to ensure you that you are also recording the conversation at the same time (otherwise known as duplicate recording), rather than relying solely on the employee’s recording, because audio recordings can be edited in the same way videos can.
If an employee has not requested audio recording, do be on the alert if they leave the room for a break mid-meeting but leave their phone behind. They may be covertly recording conversations while you are gone. If they take a break, insist they take their possessions with them and we advise you to discreetly check under their chair too! Otherwise, either remove yourself from the room during the break or ensure you don’t discuss the meeting, case or employee during the break. While covert recordings are not usually admissible to be used as evidence at Employment Tribunals, there have been some cases over the past few years where judges have allowed this and as a consequence companies have been extremely embarrassed by inappropriate comments made by their managers on audio!
Additionally, be on the alert for any employee who holds a pen over a piece of paper and casually asks you if they can record the meeting. You infer ‘take notes’, they mean ‘record’. They won’t be the first employee who isn’t upfront about their intention to record on their phone or use one of those wonderful audio recording pens that are so readily available.
How long after the meeting should you produce the final notes?
Notes should be produced as soon as possible and definitely within 2 weeks of the meeting.
What do you do if you find after the meeting has concluded that your note taker has missed whole chunks of the discussion?
We recommend that you immediately sit down and attempt to fill in the gaps together from memory, but refer to what you have done in a comments box or similar. It is almost impossible for a note taker to concentrate and take notes for more than 30 minutes without beginning to miss whole sections through lapses in concentration. The Chair should be aware of this and ensure regular breaks to avoid notes being missed.
Do notes need to be agreed and signed by the employee?
Yes – you should make every effort to get notes agreed, signed and dated. Where the employee disputes the note, make a note to that effect and keep both versions of the notes for future reference.
Who are the best note takers and who typically, are the worst?
A very subjective question, but common sense tells us that people who struggle to concentrate for long periods will not enjoy note taking. You should also not assume that everyone has the same writing ability as you do, especially if English is not their first language. Even people who speak fluent English (with English as a second language) have been known not to be able to write in English, so again don’t make assumptions about writing ability. In our experience, using someone to note take who is not familiar with sitting in (potentially long) meetings might also struggle with the formality and focus required.
Can you choose to exclude parts of the discussion that you don’t deem to be relevant?
Referring back to the example we gave at the start of this Blast, it is an area of contention that some notes only contain information relevant to the employer’s case and leave out issues that the employee considers relevant. Best practice is that good notes should be taken of all key points whether you consider them relevant to the situation at this stage or not. It is also not the role of the note taker to make judgements about what is and is not relevant, so they should capture as much as possible.
How Jaluch can help!
- Want to give your managers or newer HR members some note taking practise and to learn some of the do’s and don’ts? Why not consider our half day training on note taking? Delivered by those who deal with the grievances and tribunal complaints, this is a practical and participative session designed to build skill and confidence.
- Other courses offered by Jaluch include managing discipline, managing grievances, managing change, essential employment law, conducting investigations and managing absence. Practical, pragmatic and commercial – always!
- If you need invite and outcome letters for formal meetings, you can download editable template letter from Docs Wizard.
Contact us for more details.
The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.