The importance of taking minutes – Top tips and advice
It’s a pesky task, one that you’re either good at or not (I certainly fall into the latter category), yet it’s very important and really can be the difference between winning or losing a tribunal. What is it? Minute taking in meetings or hearings.
What are minutes?
Minutes serve as a record of any meeting, or formal hearing, with an employee.
They can accompany an informal meeting, such as return-to-work meetings, 1-2-1 discussions to discuss informal concerns and also formal hearings, such as a disciplinary, grievance, consultation meeting to discuss potential redundancy and so on.
Do minutes have to be word for word?
No, they don’t have to be word for word in the sense that you have to include all the ‘ah’s’, ‘erms’ and ‘mm’s’ but they do need to capture everything that is said.
Is it necessary to have a note taker?
Its not essential to have a note taker present but it is advisable.
The benefit of having a note taker is that it frees up the person chairing the hearing to ask the questions and really listen to what is being said. If they are taking minutes at the same time, this can affect their ability to chair the hearing properly.
Is a summary of a meeting/hearing ok?
You need to be careful here.
If you are summarising a meeting or hearing, then you are summarising from your own perspective, this opens up the risk of bias, albeit unintentional.
This will manifest itself by the exclusion of information which you don’t think is relevant, when it is relevant or summarising to the extent that the meaning of what has been said is lost.
Also, if the hearing lasted 2 hours and you provide 2 pages of minutes, there’s a lot of missing information! On that point, it’s important to remember that we here at Avensure also rely on receiving accurate minutes so that we are best placed to provide you with correct advice.
Should I include my thoughts/comments in the minutes?
This should be avoided.
We see this frequently, where the note taker or the chair of the hearing sends the minutes to us here at Avensure with a running commentary on the points raised by the employee.
For example, in the minutes from a disciplinary hearing,
‘I did not steal Friday’s takings from the till’ (Chair- said in a shifty tone of voice, avoiding eye contact)
‘I did not steal Friday’s takings from the till’ (Chair- the CCTV shows she took them, this is a lie)
The above are quite extreme examples admittedly but whilst you are free to raise any thoughts you have on a hearing; the minutes of that hearing are not the place to do it.
The employee could make a subject access request under data protection legislation and will have a right to see this kind of document. Notes such the ones above could seriously prejudice a case where the employer goes on to terminate the employees’ contract on the basis of them having stolen monies because it conveys an impression that you went into the hearing with your mind made up.
It is also bad practice. Therefore, aim to keep any thoughts or commentary to a separate email to your legal consultant, as those types of communications are protected and would not be provided to an employee if they did make a request to see their file.
Do I need to take notes or minutes every time I meet with an employee?
Its good practice.
That doesn’t mean every time there is a conversation it has to be noted but bearing in mind that disputes can arise out of the most seemingly benign of circumstances, it’s a good habit to get into and can save you a lot of hassle in the future.
Does the employee have to have a copy of minutes?
Yes, they should. They should receive a copy so that they can come back to you if they feel there are any inaccuracies.
Do minutes have to be typed or are handwritten minutes acceptable?
Typed is preferable- tribunals certainly prefer it. However, if your handwritten minutes are legible (handwritten minutes produced by me certainly would not be!) then this will suffice.
If the handwritten minutes are legible then the employee can sign or initial the bottom of each page in the hearing. A typed copy can also be produced and both the handwritten and typed documents can be placed on file.
What if the employee disputes the content of the minutes but I disagree with their suggested amendments?
This crops up a lot and often the employee wants to add something to the minutes that they wished they had said.
If you as the chair and/or the minute taker disagrees with the suggested amendments, then a copy of the request to vary the minutes can be added to the file but with a note to say that the chair and note taker do not agree to the amendments and stand by the original document.
How do poor, or a lack of, minutes affect you at a tribunal?
Minutes serve as a record of a hearing or meeting. If the minutes are vague or non-existent you will find it very difficult to present your case because you are relying on memory and of course that memory will be biased- especially as you are not being taken to a tribunal. If there are no minutes, there is nothing to support that the hearing took place at all!
Also consider the fact that cases can take a long time to get to tribunal, especially now due to the pandemic, so your ability to recall events and the details of any discussions will be severely impaired with the passage of time.
Finally, it will not present you in a good light at all and will certainly frustrate the tribunal Judge.
In disciplinary hearings, is it ok for the minute taker to be the person who carried out the investigation?
It can be very difficult to find an appropriate note taker. You need only act reasonably, so having to fork out for a professional note taker is not necessary.
In the situation above, it is not ideal but as long as the person only focuses on taking minutes and doesn’t enter into any discussions about the case in the hearing itself, it may be permissible but only as a last resort.
If however that person was a key witness in the case, they should not be asked to take minutes.
Can hearings or meetings be recorded?
They can but only with all the attendees present consenting to the recoding of the meeting- this also applies to meetings being carried out remotely via the use of software such as Zoom.
The minutes should be transcribed though, which can be more of an arduous task than minute taking itself but it’s a matter of preference.
And finally…. So, when we here at Avensure really press you for minutes of a hearing, we are helping to ensure you have a robust paper trail in place in the unfortunate event that you end up with a claim. Please quote your Client Account Number on all correspondence and telephone calls. 24-hour client advice line: 0800 151 2935.