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Plebgate gives validity to sound recordings

There may be doubt over the meaning of what was said by the three police officers following their meeting with MP Andrew Mitchell, but there can be no doubt that his decision to record and transcribe the meeting was a masterstroke, says Maxine Park.

Taking soundings of confidential meetings can avoid claims Everett Collection

Making sound recordings of confidential meetings with employees, like performance reviews and disciplinary or grievance interviews, will deliver a range of benefits that can help organisations avoid employment tribunal claims. Many organisations will still deal with minor disciplinary matters informally; a quiet word off the record will often suffice. But once the need for formal proceedings has been established, it is essential all concerned adhere strictly to the accepted policies the organisation has in place.

Following these tried and tested procedures helps minimise the risk of a claim being made, but many organisations now recognise the benefits of making digital sound recordings of disciplinary and grievance interviews. There has been a marked spike in interest following the media attention given to the Andrew Mitchell affair and the security the recording has afforded the MP and his version of events. It is clear many organisations, large and small, have now taken the concept to its natural progression, recording job interviews, performance reviews and other important meetings to create accurate records, with transcriptions made available for everyone concerned.

Keep all informed

It appears Andrew Mitchell suspected there might be a problem afterwards, so kept his recording of the meeting covert. Although not a legal requirement, good practice dictates that those attending a meeting where recording and transcription is intended, should be informed of the situation.

It is important to remember that recordings capture every word. It is therefore essential those tasked with undertaking interviews understand the correct procedures and can be trusted to adhere to them. Knowing you are being recorded helps keep feelings under control; it is more difficult to become too emotional or even threatening when you are aware every word can be replayed.

Interestingly, sound files also convey emotion and offer context to the words spoken, which makes it simpler to review the issue. It is easier to ignore preconceptions and form an accurate opinion listening to a recording after the event, than reading notes scribbled at the time. Also, a recording does not miss words because it forgets to make notes.
The time taken for the disciplinary process to run its course is often a source for complaint, with the need to type up handwritten notes of the meeting just one of the issues. Digital recording of meetings has dramatically cut the time required, avoiding the need to get approval from attendees that it represents a faithful representation of what was said. A simple transcription of the digital sound file ensures there can be no argument over the veracity of the record made.

Explaining events

A common complaint that often leads to tribunal claims, is that managers failed to give adequate opportunity for an employee to explain their version of events. The knowledge they are being recorded will ensure managers act appropriately and offer adequate time. However, if any unwarranted accusation is made, the recording can also be used to refute the allegation that not enough time was given. Sound recordings also prove useful to review the performance of managers conducting interviews. The entire process can be assessed and necessary changes to procedures can be made to address any issues highlighted.  Training can also be offered to managers to help improve their individual performance.

Smaller organisations could use digital dictation machines or dictation apps for Smartphones and tablets, for the small number of one-on-one meetings they might conduct in any given year. But for larger organisations, with an expectation of more interviews and hearings, with multiple attendees, the best transcription service providers will supply conference-style recording equipment, with a separate microphone for each attendee.

Time consuming

It can be tempting to use internal resources to transcribe the recording, but it is time-consuming for the inexperienced and there are confidentiality implications, particularly where redundancies or serious behavioural or health issues are concerned. To avoid any claims that a potential breach in confidentiality may have occurred, many organisations now outsource their transcription requirements to external service providers. The best of these, well-versed in the process of transcribing hearings and interviews, will provide certificates of accurate representation, which certify the transcription is a faithful representation.

This accurate record is achieved using verbatim transcription, which includes all the ‘umms’ and ‘errs’ that shape the flow and meaning of conversations. Unlike dictation transcription where the skilled typist excludes mistakes and hesitations, any omissions in interview transcriptions might affect the intended meaning of what was said.
The accusation an organisation failed to keep accurate records of an interview can cause problems at an appeal stage or if a case proceeds to an employment tribunal. Offering to produce a transcription, with a certificate of accurate representation, will help rebut any such accusation.

Quick response

A quick and professional response to disciplinary hearings can also help improve standards of performance within organisations. The quick resolution of grievances can prevent employees spreading gossip or damaging the organisation’s reputation. Recording and transcribing interviews, reviews and hearings demonstrates how seriously personnel issues are taken. Although more organisations are beginning to accept recording and transcription as best practice, those slow to adopt this approach to interviews and meetings must understand the damage they risk to the reputation of their organisation from repeated accusations that they have acted inappropriately.

Maxine Park is a co- founder of DictateNow, a service offering  an enhanced and efficient transcription resource to businesses in a wide range of sectors including legal, medical, public sector, charity and parliament.

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16 December 2013

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