Take good notes of consultation meetings

This may sound trite, but it is amazing how often this is overlooked. You need good notes if you are going to follow-up on any points after the meeting, if the employee subsequently challenges anything that was said, or if the matter ends up in the Employment Tribunal; so every time, basically.

But what are good notes?

  • they need not in any sense be verbatim;
  • you can focus instead on the key points relevant to the proposed redundancy, but that does obviously imply that the note-taker can recognise a key point when he sees one, so don’t leave this to the work experience student. Key points of substance will include any attack on the existence of a redundancy situation in the first place, any challenge to your pooling or selection criteria, any disagreement about scores (either in isolation or relative to one or more other named individuals) and anything to do with possible alternative employment opportunities. Key points of procedure include the employees being accompanied (or his decision not to be), that the meeting took a sufficient length of time not to be just a charade, that the employer’s decision-maker is identified and that the employee agrees in closing that he has said all he wishes;
  • if you miss even one such key point it will taint the integrity of the whole of the rest of the note, so if in doubt, keep it in;
  • the notes should record only what happened at the consultation meeting itself and should not blur into your later consideration of the points raised or your further investigations. Similarly, if as employer you use any form of script or template to guide what you say in the meeting, that will not be your notes unless you follow it. The ET will see quickly through any attempt to fudge the line between what you ought to have said or meant to say on the one hand, and what you actually did say on the other.
  • you may need to justify every dot and comma of your notes in the Employment tribunal, in terms not of immaculate use of English, but of whether they indicate a fair process carried out without pre-determination. Good notes will therefore not include jokes, snide remarks or any other indications of the note-taker’s views of what the employee is saying. Not recently, maybe, but examples we have seen include a record of the redundancy consultation meeting with a Mr Witt headed “Witt’s End”, and the despairing end to the notes of a particularly contentious consultation meeting, “God help us all”. Not exactly demonstrative of an open mind, it might be said;
  • if you are known to be recording the meeting (please don’t do it covertly – it is still admissible in evidence but a horrible cosmetic mis-step in the eyes of the Employment Tribunal), your resulting notes will have to be spot-on. There are no legitimate excuses for the written notes saying something different from the tape. You will probably have to disclose the tape too, so don’t be tempted to “lose” parts which don’t suit your case;
  • the note-taker should not be shy of asking the parties to slow down or repeat or clarify a point for the record if need be;
  • good notes do not have to be agreed notes. Acas recommends sending meeting notes to the employee afterwards, but does not suggest that you try to agree them with him. The temptation, often quite innocent, for him to re-write the notes to say what he meant to say or thinks he said, is material. Your employee is entitled to make his own notes if he wishes (offer pen and paper). If he disagrees with your notes, then he can say so and you should keep his comments on file. However, if your notes genuinely represent your best record of what happened, they should not really be open to debate or negotiation with him.