Part 2 – The Essentials of Good Documentation
In this two-part series, so far, we have discussed the essentials of executing fair and consistent corrective action on employees with performance issues. Today we will explore the elements of good documentation and why it is so important.
In today’s workplace environment, even employees have come to expect that discussions and disciplinary actions will always be documented. Except in the cases where employees violate company policies that dictate immediate termination, there is usually ample time to make sure that employees with performance issues are given all of the warning steps and the corresponding documentation is evident, specific and concise. Making sure that documentation always follows an employee disciplinary conference will support the company’s decision when faced with legal disputes. Unfortunately, many companies that pay hefty fines and end up with problems from the EEOC and the courts, usually do so because there is no documentation to support the decision to terminate. Ambiguity leads to inevitable misinterpretation and will be used against you. In other words, “take your time” and exercise patience to ensure that your decision is well documented before taking action.
Good documentation should include the facts and reasons for the decisions being taken. Employers should always keep in mind that the decision could be challenged; make sure that the document clearly and concisely supports and explains your decision. What should a fair and well documented action include?
- Employer expectations have been clearly communicated
- Expectations are enforced consistently across the board
- The performance issue has been communicated as being unacceptable
- What the consequence will be for continued unacceptable behavior
- Opportunity and assistance has been offered to the employee to improve
This is the base for your documentation but below is a more detailed checklist of what the order should be for the documentation, as well as the areas with which you should be in compliance, in the event your decision is challenged in legal proceedings.
- Specify the policy that was violated or the unacceptable performance issue. Include the impact , if applicable, on the operations of the company.
- Mention exactly how and when the policy was communicated.
- List any previous counseling or disciplinary actions that were taken. Provide copies of the earlier documentation.
- Clearly state what is expected of the employee and the consequences for any and all future violations. Leave no room for any type of misunderstanding.
- Allow the employee to ask any questions he or she may have with regard to the expectations and the actions currently being taken.
- Let your employee know of your willingness to help and assist in any way that can help improve performance
- Make sure the document is dated, has your name and title, is legible (typewritten if at all possible) and noted to be confidential.
- Employee should always sign and date the document. If the employee refuses to sign, you should document the date and time and indicate that the employee refused to sign.
Whenever you are ready to make that final disciplinary decision, take the time to make sure your documentation includes all the areas that we have specified, and if it does not, consider delaying your decision until you are confident that all these points have been covered. This will undoubtedly enable you to defend your position under any type of scrutiny or legal proceedings.
As discussed, preparing good documentation is not at all difficult as long as you use your check list, prepare your document as soon as possible after the incident, try to have someone else review your document and always be truthful, accurate and fair.