DictateNow: Better disciplinary interviews with recording and transcription

Rupert White Posted By Rupert White
from Burlington Media Group

When conducting confidential meetings with employees, one recent trend helping managers avoid some of the problems that can lead to tribunals is the use of sound recording and transcription.

Maxine Park, solicitor and co-founder of transcription services provider DictateNow, explains the benefits of recording and transcribing performance reviews and disciplinary or grievance interviews:

“Sometimes a quiet word, can help defuse a disciplinary matter, but the benefits of recording and transcription are clear, once the need for formal proceedings have been established.

Deviation from an organisation’s accepted policies 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. And these cases can be costly to defend, in both time and money, regardless of any subsequent award.

Closely following an organisation’s agreed procedures is the first step in minimising the risk of a claim, but many organisations are now recognising the benefits of creating sound recordings of any formal staff interviews.

A recent trend that has crossed the Atlantic even sees a growing number of organisations utilising the recording and transcription beyond purely disciplinary matters. Recordings are now routinely made of job interviews, performance reviews and other important meetings, to create an accurate record with transcriptions made available to all participants.

It is good practice to inform all those in attendance at any meeting, that a sound recording is being made. 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 has something to hide.

However, care is required because a recording captures every word, intended or otherwise. It is essential those tasked with undertaking disciplinary and grievance interviews etc. understand the correct procedures and can be trusted to stick to them. Knowing every word can be listened to later also helps both parties keep their emotions in check and prevent everything getting too personal. Importantly, a sound recording does not forget to take notes because it gets involved in a rapid exchange of views.

The ability of a recording to capture every word and convey emotion however, helps managers to keep an open mind about an employee or situation until all the evidence is heard. It is far easier to ignore preconceptions and form an accurate opinion, reviewing a sound file than it is reading handwritten notes, jotted down in haste.

A common complaint that can lead to problems is the length of time the whole process can take from interview to further action. The switch to digital recording and transcription has helped speed up proceedings. It has removed the wait for handwritten notes to be typed up and distributed to those involved for approval, before a final version was available for review by senior managers or attached to any employment record.

Managers are often accused that they failed to give adequate opportunity for the interviewee to state their version of events. Recording and transcribing interviews helps address this problem in two ways. Knowledge a recording is being made will help ensure managers act appropriately and give adequate opportunity to the employee. Also, the recording will act as evidence to rebut any accusation the time afforded was inadequate, if the manager acted appropriately.

Sound recording interviews and hearings not only helps those involved in the process conform to an organisation’s agreed standards, it can help improve those standards. The recordings can be reviewed by senior managers to assess the performance of the interviewer, with appropriate training offered, or changes can be made to procedures to address issues highlighted in the review.

When there is the potential for large numbers of performance reviews and disciplinary or grievance interviews, with multiple attendees, transcription service providers can supply conference-style recording equipment. This is simple to use and has a separate microphone for each attendee, creating an accurate record of what was said by every speaker, even if they speak at the same time.

The use of digital dictation machines, or the latest dictation apps for Smartphones and tablets, usually proves sufficient for smaller businesses only conducting a small number of one-on-one meetings and interviews.

Getting the recording transcribed into a document format, ready for distribution to everyone concerned, is the next step. Transcribing the sound file within the organisation is the most obvious method, but this has confidentiality implications, particularly where sensitive issues, like redundancies or personal behaviour are concerned. For this reason, many businesses, large and small are outsourcing to ISO27001 accredited transcription service providers to reduce the risk of a breach of confidentiality.

External service providers used to transcribing hearings and interviews will have the typist, usually a qualified legal secretary, sign a certificate of accurate representation. This faithful representation is ensured by utilising verbatim transcription, which includes all the ‘umms’ and ‘errs’ that affect the flow and context of the words being recorded.

In normal transcription a skilled typist will exclude mistakes, repetitions and hesitations, but in interview transcriptions, any omission or correction may affect the intended 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. Offering an accurate transcription of any interviews, together with a certificate of accurate representation, will significantly reduce any assertion that accurate records have not been kept.

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 do things right.

Whilst some might view the use of external transcription service providers as an unnecessary expense, those same individuals have to ask themselves, how much any accusation they acted inappropriately, could cost the organisation in the long run?"

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It's important to bear in mind that transcription of interviews is NOT the sort of thing that a legal secretary can (or should) do. Reducing the spoken word to written form whilst accurately and faithfully conveying the meaning requires a separate skillset which is quite distinct from transcribing "digital dictation", which is itself run-of-the-mill legal secretarial work. Where the spoken word really matters, you should use a skilled verbatim reporter/transcriber and not a legal secretary.

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