Document, Document, Document!
Documentation of employee performance, behavior, discipline, etc. should be second nature for all supervisors. Strong and accurate documentation is especially important in any kind of employment litigation – termination, retaliation, harassment, among others. This may sound easy, but knowing which documents to focus on and remaining objective in your notes can either make or break your case.
HR’s Top Three
What are HR’s top three “litigation-ending” documents?
- Job Descriptions. Even though this document can easily be pushed aside – especially if employee core responsibilities are evolving – it answers a fundamental question: “What did this person do?” Essential functions of a job are an important aspect in much litigation involving the Americans with Disabilities Act. As long as the job description is current and thorough in setting expectations of the position and employee, this document can prove to be useful in wrongful termination suits or in claims for failing to hire or promote a(n) (potential) employee.
- Handbooks. Critical! Important! Did I get my point across? Handbooks set out basic policies for employees and employers alike. They establish employer policies regarding employee conduct, medical leave, attendance expectations, etc. and procedures for reporting and following up on complaints or misconduct. Here is where documentation comes into play: policies in the handbook need to be clear, succinct (yet detailed), relevant to your company, updated and revised regularly, and above all, need to be applied consistently across the board. Yes, the VP of Marketing is held to the same standards as the brand new Customer Service Rep. I’m not saying your handbook needs to be a novel – actually, I’m suggesting the opposite. Your handbook should serve as a guide for employees and a tool for employers; not as a storage place for every state and federal law out there.
- Performance Evaluations/Disciplinary Documents. These can be as informal as a handwritten note tossed into an employee’s file. However, dates of the occurrences and names of the parties involved always need to be included. Often times, a lack of documentation or incomplete notes will help the claimant’s defense. So what can you do about it?
When writing up a performance evaluation or documenting a necessary disciplinary action, ask yourself these questions:
- Are my written comments focused on the employee’s on-the-job-performance?
- Am I objective when it comes to analyzing the employee’s work?
- Could my words be construed as unprofessional, demeaning or sarcastic?
- Did I get all the facts from all parties?
Make sure to be detailed, clear and honest in your disciplinary notes and performance evaluations. Your words at the time the event occurred can help establish your credibility and reinforce your actions.
Taking the time to regularly review and update job descriptions, handbook policies and procedures as well as making an effort to make clear, detailed and honest notes can be the difference between success and failure in the courtroom.