Here is what you need to know about notes for disciplinary or other formal employee meetings.
Minutes taken at a formal meeting with an employee can constitute important evidence in both your company’s internal proceedings and in any subsequent tribunal claims. Be it a disciplinary, capability, absence or grievance meeting, the minutes should be detailed and accurate and, if possible, agreed by both you and the employee.
You should also consider your company’s position on electronic recording and employees secretly record meetings. It is best to set out your position on this clearly in writing, usually in your company’s staff handbook.
Provisions for note or minute taking
If you are holding any kind of formal meeting with an employee, you should have a minute taker present since it can be difficult for the chair to run the meeting and also take minutes. The minute taker should be another employee and ideally, someone who is not involved with the employee or with any circumstances giving rise to the meeting. The minute taker should not actively participate in the meeting and will act only as a scribe to ensure everything discussed is accurately documented.
It is good practice to notify employees in their invite letter to the meeting that a minute taker will be present and identify them by name.
Employees and anyone accompanying them to the meeting are also entitled to take their own notes.
Documenting the meeting
To ensure the salient points discussed at the meeting are recorded accurately, the chair of the meeting should remind the employee to speak slowly and clearly to ensure all their points can be heard and accurately documented by the minute taker.
Whilst it would be unreasonable to insist the minute taker take a verbatim account of the meeting, they should endeavour to capture the main points and make a note of who said what. If the employee or the chair of the meeting wants a particular point quoted, they can ask the minute taker to take a verbatim account of certain words or phrases during the course of the meeting.
It is now usual practice to take minutes on a PC or laptop, as opposed to hand writing. This will enable the meeting to flow more naturally.
Agreeing the notes or minutes
After approval by the chair, the minutes should be circulated to the employee as soon as possible. The employer can either ask the employee to sign a copy of the minutes to confirm that they accurately reflect the topics discussed or alternatively state that, unless the employee raises any objections, the minutes will be deemed to be approved. Whilst the latter is of less evidentiary value than the former, it has the advantage of keeping the employer in control of the process.
If the employee does not accept that parts of the minutes are an accurate reflection of the discussions, they should be asked to amend and return or provide their own minutes of the meeting. Should the matter proceed to an employment tribunal, both versions can be referred to and that which is not agreed can be highlighted to the judge.
It is important to the employer that the process does not get bogged down in nit-picking arguments over the minutes.
This can be either audio or video recording. Your company should consider its position on electronic audio recording. Some employers choose to take electronic recordings of meetings and hearings in order to obtain verbatim transcripts of what was said.
Consent must be obtained from all parties. There are practical implications of recording meetings because, generally speaking, people do not speak in fluent or structured sentences and so transcribing recordings can often result in difficulties contextualising what was said. It can also make people uncomfortable knowing that they are being recorded. On the flip side, recording meetings can evidence people’s tone and intonations, which may assist later down the line at tribunal; for example, if an employee becomes particularly aggressive during a disciplinary meeting about their conduct.
There have been many recent Tribunal cases where employees have secretly recorded meetings at work with their mobile phones or other electronic devices. Employment Tribunals usually allow such recordings to be admissible in evidence. It depends on the circumstances. Secretly recording a meeting with the intent of entrapping a manager could constitute misconduct whereas an employee secretly recording a meeting because they felt flustered and vulnerable is more likely to be allowed.
Your company should ensure that its policies in relation to documenting meetings, be it by minute taking or recording, are clearly stated in writing. When inviting employees to formal meetings or hearings, employers should highlight any consequences which may arise if an employee is in breach of those policies.
Alan Finley is a consultant at DMH Stallard.