Maxine Park explains the benefits of recording and transcribing reviews, interviews and hearings. Although an initial disciplinary matter may be dealt with informally, with a quiet word off the record, formal proceedings require strict adherence to the organisation’s policies.
A recent drop in the overall number of cases going to employment tribunal doesn’t hide the fact that the public sector continues to be involved in a disproportionately higher number of cases than the private sector. Further budget cuts and the prospect of more job losses are expected to push the numbers up again this year. So what steps can managers take, when conducting confidential meetings with employees, like performance reviews, and disciplinary or grievance interviews, to help avoid the pitfalls that could lead to more employment tribunals?
Get it right, or else
Getting the procedure wrong and making a mess of disciplinary or grievance interviews in particular, generates a huge number of employment tribunals, with claims for breach of contract, unfair dismissal and discrimination. These cases are costing organisations time and money to defend, even ignoring any payout they have to make; money they can ill-afford to waste, particularly at a time when public sector budgets are under such close scrutiny.
Following agreed procedures minimises the risk of claims being made, but many organisations now understand the benefits of making sound recordings of disciplinary and grievance interviews. In fact, some organisations now routinely record job interviews, performance reviews and other important meetings to ensure accurate records are created and retained, with the possibility of transcriptions being made for the interested parties.
Clearly it is necessary to inform all those in attendance at any meeting, that a sound recording is being made. Covert recording is never a good idea as President Nixon once found to his cost. The ability to offer a sound file record of any interview, within minutes of its conclusion, is a major component of avoiding accusations the organisation has acted inappropriately, or dragged its feet over any matter.
Recordings will capture every word. It is therefore important for managers within an organisation, tasked with undertaking disciplinary and grievance interviews etc., to understand the correct procedure and stick to it, even in the face of provocation. Knowledge that an interview is being recorded helps keep feelings in check throughout the meeting, with it proving more difficult for either side to become too emotional or even threatening during a meeting, knowing every word can be listened to later.
Keeping an open mind
One particular aspect of the disciplinary process that sound recordings address is the common failure of managers to keep an open mind about an employee or situation until all the evidence is heard. Sound files capture every word, convey emotion and offer context, which makes reviewing the issue for a second time much easier. To ignore preconceptions and form an accurate opinion, is far easier with a sound file than it is with a pile of handwritten notes, scribbled at the time. The sound recording also doesn’t miss words because it gets involved in a rapid exchange of views and forgets to make notes.
The switch to digital recording has helped speed up proceedings. No more waiting for handwritten notes to be typed up and distributed to those that were involved to approve that the document represents an accurate record of what was said and by whom. Any amendments would then have to be agreed, before a final version was available for review by senior managers or attached to any employment record. It is often the length of this process that leads to complaints being made.
A common complaint from employees is that managers fail to give adequate opportunity for them to put forward their case or version of events. The recording of the interview will help ensure managers act appropriately and give adequate opportunity to the employee, or it will act as evidence to rebut the employee’s accusation that the time afforded was inadequate.
Inconsistency in the procedures followed, can also be an issue. Whilst organisations work hard to standardise their approach, sound recording helps everyone conform to the agreed standards. The sound files can also be used to review the performance of the manager conducting the interview, with appropriate training offered or changes made to the procedure due to issues highlighted by the review process.
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For smaller organisations, the use of digital dictation machines, or dictation apps for Smartphones or tablets, may be sufficient for a small number of one-on-one meetings. For larger organisations, with an expectation of more interviews and hearings, with multiple attendees, transcription service providers can supply conference-style recording equipment, with a separate microphone for each attendee. It’s easy to set-up and use, but allows an accurate record to be made of multiple speakers, even when they talk at the same time.
Following recording, the next step is to get it transcribed into a document format, ready for distribution to everyone concerned. It can be tempting to get this sound file typed-up using the organisations internal resources, but this obviously has confidentiality implications, particularly where redundancies or serious behavioural or health issues are concerned. It is this desire for increased confidentiality that sees a growing number of organisations using external transcription service providers.
Ensure you get a certificate
The best external service providers, well-versed in the process of transcribing hearings and interviews, will have the typist, usually a qualified legal secretary, sign a certificate of accurate representation. This certifies the transcription is a faithful reproduction of the sound file. Some clients will insist the transcription is checked for accuracy, by a member of the service provider’s quality assurance team, who will also provide a signed certificate of accurate representation.
This faithful representation is ensured by utilising verbatim transcription, which includes all the ‘umms’ and ‘errs’ that have a direct effect on the flow and meaning of the conversations being recorded. Unlike transcription of dictation where the skill of the typist excludes mistakes and hesitations, in interview transcriptions, any omissions may inadvertently affect the intended meaning of any spoken response.
Failing to keep accurate records of an interview can cause problems at an appeal stage or if a case proceeds to an employment tribunal. The ability to produce, not just an accurate transcription of any interview, together with a certificate of accurate representation, but the original recording, will significantly reduce any assertion that accurate records were not kept. Any tribunal is also sure to appreciate the ability to hear a recording of any interview, if it offers insight into the detail or emotions of the individuals involved.
Take it seriously
Disciplinary hearings can help improve standards of work and performance within the organisation, with the quick resolution to grievances preventing employees spreading gossip or damaging the organisation’s reputation. Recording and transcribing personnel interviews, reviews and hearings demonstrates how seriously personnel issues are taken and shows how determined an organisation is to get things right; first time, every time.
The use of external transcription service providers might be viewed by some as an unwarranted expense at a time when few public sector organisations can afford it, but those individuals have to ask themselves, how much might the accusation they acted inappropriately cost the organisation in the long run?
Maxine Park is a solicitor and co-founder of transcription services provider DictateNow which currently employs over 300 home-based typists in the UK.