When things go Wrong
No matter how careful, or how caring, you are, things can occasionally go awry in the workplace. Issues arise which need to be investigated, people raise grievances which need to be heard and unfortunately, not everyone complies with the company rules, no matter how many times you ask them to sign the Staff Handbook. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it is necessary to deal with the investigation, grievance or disciplinary quickly and thoroughly, and to keep good records throughout the process.
In the case of investigations it is necessary to take witness statements and if the matter progresses to a disciplinary meeting these statements will be critical. The disciplinary itself must be carried out in accordance with good practice. You can read more about this here on the ACAS site where you can download a number of very useful documents.
Whenever something goes awry, accurate and effective note-taking and evidence recording forms a critical part of the resolution process.
Confidential and Discreet
It can feel quite personal when these things arise, particularly if the issue involves a breach of trust, or could impact negatively on the business you have spent so long building and nurturing. It is certainly a challenging time for any business. One thing you absolutely do not need is gossip or discussion of the issue within the workplace. This will potentially create problems further down the line, allow the individual to raise issues relating to lack of confidentiality and of course, gossip can de-stabilise your team. Issues must be dealt with rapidly but effectively. It’s never good to rush these things and certainly you should never miss out a step, but everyone involved will be keen to get the matter resolved effectively so a timely progression through the steps is always the best approach.
Impartial and Experienced
Whether you are an employer or an HR Consultant, having an independent person to take the notes in disciplinary or grievance meetings can be hugely beneficial. They will be totally impartial and will have no pre-existing knowledge of the company or team so will not have any bias or make any assumptions which could affect their note-taking.
In a small organisation it can be difficult to find someone who is both an experienced note taker, capable of taking the notes accurately, and is also unknown to the person involved. In situations of this kind it is critically important that what happens in the room, stays in the room, no matter what the size of the organisation. However, in smaller organisations there have been cases where the information left the room because the note taker was inexperienced and was unaware that they should not discuss the case they had just noted.
Often in situations of this kind feelings are running high. The person involved will be upset. They may feel distrustful, angry or betrayed. It’s very important that everyone in the room is able to be trusted by the individual involved and it can help if the person taking the notes is not from within the organisation. It is clear the note taker will have no preconceived views about anyone or anything which is mentioned and this can help the individual to feel they can speak freely.
In this type of situation, explanations can become frantic, emotional and difficult to follow at times. It can take a level of confidence and experience for a note-taker to ask the individual to stop, and to wait whilst they catch up, and then for that note taker to calmly read back the notes and ask whether all the key points have been included. It also helps if your note taker has an HR background as it is easier for them to accurately pick out the important points from the irrelevant and note only the key issues. Notes must be taken long-hand to enable them to be reviewed by all parties at the end of the meeting and, if appropriate, initialled to show agreement.
Sometimes being in a room with the people whom the individual feels had not listened previously, and being able to fully explain their concerns and issues, can be enough to allow the issue to be resolved. And if there is a set of really good notes as an outcome of the meeting, the formality of this can be appreciated by the individual. If matters cannot be resolved quickly and the next stage of the process is required, then the notes will be a critical part of the process at that stage.
Practical and Effective
When chairing the meeting, you need to feel confident that the notes will be full enough to rely upon throughout any stages that might follow, and certain that they include all the relevant details (and none of the irrelevant ones). Having someone with HR knowledge to take the notes can be invaluable for ensuring this.
Of course you can also record the meeting and in this case, the recording can be transcribed, allowing a full record of the proceedings to be made. Even if you choose not to have the recording transcribed, it can useful for cross-checking facts in the notes if that proves necessary at a later stage.
For the HR Consultant, having a dedicated note taker rather than trying to multi-task can be a huge benefit. It can be very difficult to chair the meeting, ask the right questions, and note the answers in meetings where feelings are running high and people may be shouting, crying or arguing. This is particularly true in disciplinary hearings. Trying to both take notes and consider the evidence and information being provided can be hugely challenging in some meetings.
Writing up the notes of meetings needs to be done very promptly following a meeting of this kind. The individual and the company will both need a resolution to the situation quickly. It can be a challenge for the HR Consultant to get everything written up in a timely way and often involves working late into the night. I have returned notes with a 24 hour turnaround for cases in the past. This ensures you have the information you need to make a decision quickly and accurately. This can be particularly important if the person involved is suspended from work for a potential disciplinary offence.
Naturally the note-takers hourly rate is less than that of an HR Consultant so there are cost savings when you consider how long it can take to type up the notes.
If you are an HR Consultant or a small company and you are looking for support in this area of your business, you can contact me here for a no obligation chat.