Lack of solid documentation is the single most common mistake employers make when handling discipline or terminations. What if you need to justify an employment decision or termination long after it occurs? Not properly documenting can hurt you in unemployment compensation disputes, workers’ compensation cases and other legal matters. Good records, on the other hand, can mean the difference between winning and losing a lawsuit.
Let’s look at six tips on how to document employee issues.
Tip 1. Focus on the Behavior — Not the Person.
Concentrate on the incident or behavior. Stick to the facts, and don’t include opinions about the employee or comment on personality traits. For example, instead of saying “John is irresponsible,” describe the specific actions that led to this conclusion (John lost the keys to the company van, John forgot to lock up when leaving, John missed a deadline, etc.)
Tip 2. Be Careful Not to Embellish the Facts.
When describing the problem, don’t exaggerate. Avoid words such as “always” and “never,” unless you can substantiate them. For example, don’t say an employee “never turns her report in on time” if she has, in fact, turned in even one report on schedule. Exaggerating, even innocently, can cloud your credibility if you’re called to testify.
Tip 3. Don’t Contradict Previous Documentation.
When describing the misconduct, it’s important that your documents match previous records. If an employee’s annual review indicates he is “above average” or “meeting expectations” in every category, it would be difficult to justify a disciplinary report a month later saying the employee didn’t meet performance standards.
Tip 4. Identify the Rule or Policy Violated.
Document whether the employee has broken a rule, policy or performance standard and specify what it is. It’s easier to justify your actions if the workplace requirement is in writing and communicated to employees. If there is a written standard, include a copy of it with your paperwork. Remember: Rules don’t have to be in a formal handbook to apply. Any written employee communications, including emails, are acceptable.
Tip 5. Determine Consequences for Not Correcting the Problem.
The write-up should indicate what action you will take if the employee doesn’t meet the stated expectations. If your employee doesn’t meet the objectives, what will happen? What is the deadline for the problem to be solved? When will you meet again to discuss? Address these questions when documenting employee behavior.
Tip 6. Present in Person and Get a Signature.
Once you have completed your disciplinary report, go over it with the employee and request a signature indicating he or she has read and understands the content. (You may need to emphasize to the employee that a signature does not indicate agreement, just acknowledgment of the conversation.) If the employee refuses to sign, ask another manager to witness the fact the employee received the document but refused to sign it.
If you end up having to terminate, you now have proper performance documentation to support your decision. For more guidance on documenting employee behavior and terminating, download our free e-guide.