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Disputing minutes of a meeting

 Disputing minutes of a meeting

Disputing minutes of a meeting is a common practice, but what should an organisation do to avoid mistakes being made? When can such disagreement arise and why is it important to get the process right? These are topics that will be addressed below.

Examples of when a person may be disputing the minutes of a meeting:

1. A disciplinary hearing

It is common for people who have gone through a disciplinary process which did not go their way to feel distressed, particularly if it resulted in their dismissal. In such a situation the person concerned is likely to receive the written findings and think ‘I did not say that’ or ‘I brought lots of things up and they haven’t been mentioned at all’.  The person concerned may well think that the omissions show that things were not considered, and that the outcome would have been different if they had been.

The outcome of the disciplinary hearing may well be based on several elements: what was said during the hearing itself, material gathered during the investigation phase, the response to that material at the hearing, witness evidence at the hearing etc. If such material is taken into account, it is particularly important that it is entirely accurate and can withstand scrutiny.

2. A disciplinary investigation

The purpose of a disciplinary investigation is to decide whether the matter should progress to a disciplinary hearing or not. For a general overview of a disciplinary investigation, take a look at our blog disciplinary investigation: 5 things you should know.

As the name suggests, a disciplinary investigation is undertaken to unearth what happened. This is likely to involve gathering evidence, whether that is in the form of documentation, conversations with those involved or a combination of both.  Given that such conversations are likely to give an insight into what happened, it is particularly important that they are captured accurately so that appropriate next steps can be taken. For example, if the person denies wrongdoing and puts forward an alternative explanation for what happened, the minutes or notes should fully reflect that account and steps should be taken to properly explore that version of events.

Material such as the notes taken during those conversations is likely to be an important element in the investigation. If the matter did progress to a disciplinary hearing, the individual who is the subject of the hearing should be made aware of any relevant evidence by, for example, having access to minutes, statements etc. This is to enable the individual not only to know what the allegations are, but also to enable them to give their account of events, challenge evidence etc.

3. Grievances or whistleblowing

Whatever the situation, the individual is likely to be raising issues or concerns in the hope that they will be investigated and resolved. Such situations would require sensitivity and care to establish what happened and what the next steps should be. Having effective note taking during meetings or interviews indicates that the organisation takes such issues seriously and will respond appropriately.

Examples of what an individual may be disputing in the minutes of a meeting

1. Inaccurate information or omissions

Common complaints are that the account does not reflect what was said. Perhaps this relates to a lack of information, or the person says that what is captured is misleading or one sided. professional note taking can dramatically reduce the likelihood of such disputes arising because the potential pitfalls are avoided.

2. A failure to provide the material in a timely fashion

Another common source of frustration is that minutes which have been requested take a long time to arrive.  It is likely that this delay is due to understandable reasons such as other work commitments. However, the problem is that occasions where note taking is needed, such as a grievance or a disciplinary process, are likely to be distressing to the individual concerned, and the delay may cause the person to think that the organisation is hiding something, or that the extra time is being used by the organisation to write a version of events which is not accurate.

3. A failure to provide such material at all

Sometimes an organisation does not provide minutes or documentation at all. In such a situation, the individual may just receive a basic outcome letter, without any explanation regarding how any decisions were made. The consequences of such an approach are that the individual concerned may think the worst and believe that the action taken was unfair, and that the absence of an explanation speaks volumes.

Why is it important that minutes are produced properly?

1. Properly produced material indicates that any decisions taken are fair

Minutes prepared with thought and care are of great value because they are a physical record of what happened and when, which was captured at the time such events occurred. Whilst there will be situations when individuals do not agree with decisions that are made, such as disciplinary sanctions, effective minutes or notetaking will increase the likelihood of the outcome being accepted because the reasoning is clear and understood. We have expertise in taking notes on behalf of an organisation and can provide training to organisations on this topic.

2. Such material enables all parties to have confidence in the process

Having minutes produced properly is further proof that everything has been done correctly, that the whole process has been gone through in a way which means that everyone wants to engage with it, have participated fully in the process and supported the work that is being done. We can provide guidance throughout the process to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible.

3. Properly produced minutes ensure that the content is accurate and relevant

When taking minutes or notes, it is a common error for the person responsible for the task to take basic notes in the belief that it will be possible to remember what happened, particularly if they are planning to type up their notes soon after the meeting. The problem is that more urgent matters prevent the minutes from being finished. People often say that they have a good memory but the longer that passes the less reliable it is, and the more likely inaccuracies are. The delay may mean that what was said may have been expressed differently to what is contained in the minutes or perhaps were wrong. Whatever the inaccuracy it undermines the value of the minutes and potentially calls decision making into question too.

Having properly produced minutes means that all elements are laid out clearly, and that there are no loose ends or errors, and that the account can be relied on as an accurate record of what happened.

4. Such material is likely to be taken into account by an Employment Tribunal

What an Employment Tribunal will have to decide obviously depends on the nature of the claim that has been brought. However, in cases such as unfair dismissal due to misconduct, whether a reasonable investigation was or was not carried out is particularly relevant. In such a situation, documentation relating to the investigation and disciplinary hearing become potentially valuable evidence for the Employment Tribunal to consider. The extent to which such evidence is helpful to an employer’s case, or hinders it, depends on the quality of them: should they be treated with suspicion, or are they credible? In addition to our HR work we also have employment law expertise and support employers to defend claims.

What should an organisation do to ensure minutes or notes of a meeting are effective?

1. Consider getting professional support

Minute taking is a skill. It is not simply about trying to capture as much as possible. It is about ensuring that what is captured fully reflects what is said. For example, conversations can be disjointed but care should be taken to ensure that points are not missed, and equally that the information is presented in a way which is useful.

As referred to above, Plotkin & Chandler offers a full range of services relating to minute or note taking. For example, taking minutes on behalf of your organisation, providing training to organisations to provide the skills needed for the task to be done properly in house etc. We also provide training or consultancy in related areas, such as how to undertake a disciplinary investigation or how to manage a disciplinary hearing.

 

2. Remember the purpose of the material

The purpose of the minutes is essentially to provide a truthful account of what was said and done. It should not be seen as something where content can be changed, or points omitted, to support a particular version of events.

 

3. Produce the material within a reasonable length of time

Producing the material promptly is another way of showing that the account is accurate and fully reflects what was said.

4. Be open and transparent

Don’t forget to make the account as balanced as possible. Notetakers should not focus on views that they find most credible and risk excluding other possibilities.

The key point is that a person disputing the minutes may do so regardless of what steps an organisation has taken, but if they have been written properly they will be credible and show the organisation has acted reasonably.

Plotkin & Chandler works exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law. If you would like to discuss training or consultancy relating to notetaking, we would be delighted to hear from you. Call us on 020 3923 8616 or email us at info@plotkinandchandler.com

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