Your employee makes a claim that simply is not true because they have misconstrued a meeting and the action points. You agreed to a pay rise for 6 months. Yet the employee says it was a permanent pay rise. What was actually agreed?
Who knows because there are no minutes of a meeting and no paperwork to support your version of events.
You take control and stop the employees pay rise. Yet the employee interprets this as a wage reduction, resulting in a claim for unfair constructive dismissal, as well as unlawful deduction of wages and breach of contract. Now you face an impossible task to convince a tribunal that the pay rise was temporary. You have nothing to support you.
A female employee tells you she is pregnant. You undertake a quick verbal risk assessment by telling her not to do excessive hours, no heavy lifting or lone working. In fact you agree to reduce her hours due to morning sickness, but you don’t document anything. She later complains that you have not conducted a risk assessment, you have reduced her hours and she says you are also discriminating against her and penalising her just because she is pregnant. There is no written risk assessment or evidence of a discussion around her working hours and it looks on the face of it that you have taken discriminatory actions.
It is the details that matter and, particularly, the written details, especially the minutes of meetings.
In both scenarios you are trying to convince others (probably a tribunal) what was really agreed in the meetings. Yet without written contemporaneous evidence, you will struggle, and that’s why the minutes and records of meetings and agreements are important.
Many people misunderstand or ignore the importance of minutes of meetings, formal or informal. At the time the agreements and actions are taken, you mistakenly think that you are unlikely to need the minutes of the meeting as you both know what was agreed, but events and agreements can be misconstrued and that is why it is always better to have written records
- Taking minutes is essential to most meetings, not only for recording purposes but also for follow up action, next steps, and possible disciplinary action that may ensue.
- The first rule with meetings is to have a minute taker with you who is responsible for taking accurate minutes of the meeting. The minutes do not necessarily have to be word for word but the most pertinent points, plus the agreements reached or actions taken, should be recorded.
- Meeting minutes can be long and detailed, or they can be short and to the point, depending on the nature of the meeting. In situations of critical importance, and where the record is important, you may need to take detailed minutes. When this isn’t the case, minutes can be simple lists of decisions made and actions that need to be taken (with the responsible person identified).
- Even if you have minutes but they are inaccurate and you can’t rely on them, at least the minute taker can act as a witness to what was agreed/discussed. This is not ideal but it is better than a one-on-one meeting, which is often one person’s word against the other.
- If you have time (and they are legible) ask the employee to read and sign the handwritten minutes to confirm they are accurate. After the meeting, the typed minutes should be checked with the person who chaired the meeting to confirm accuracy and then circulated to all attendees and anyone else affected by any decisions taken at the meeting. In addition it is a good idea to send a follow up letter to the main affected person to confirm your decision/actions. In the case of the above scenarios, you would A) send the employee a letter confirming that the pay rise is for 6 months or B)send the pregnant employee a copy of a written risk assessment with a cover letter detailing the discussion.
- Make sure that you retain both the handwritten and typed minutes on file.
From a legal perspective, the paperwork and the records of meetings are crucial to support your version of events and will, in legal proceedings, go a long way to support your assertions. The details in the minutes will support you and it is crucial to have records on file to protect the business.
You may not realise it at the time but there is more in a minute than you first think, which often increases in worth several months after the event.
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