How many times are we asked to recall a specific situation from a month or two ago, and just can’t remember the details? It seemed so significant at the time and we thought, “I’ll remember this.” If only we thought about documenting….
Most of the time, you can just say, “Oh well,” and move on. But what if it’s related to an employment situation and the information is important?
I think most managers can relate to this: You think the discussion you had with an employee last week won’t become an ongoing issue, so you walk away without documenting the discussion. When the employee shows a lack of improvement, you talk with them again thinking, perhaps, they didn’t understand you the first time. Another couple of weeks goes by and the situation still hasn’t improved. You don’t have time to address the issue beyond a quick discussion, so you talk to the employee, yet again.
You have talked to this employee three times now and things are getting worse. You’ve given the employee plenty of opportunity to improve and now you want to terminate them for poor performance.
If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen
But there is nothing in writing. And without that documentation, regulatory agencies and unemployment judges often decide that the employer hasn’t done due diligence and rule in favor of the employee. The perception of objective decision-makers is this: If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.
Documentation is a valuable tool for managers in a variety of situations. It can be notes a manager keeps about specific situations, positive or negative, including details about actions, dates, times and outcomes. This is a great way to prepare for regular performance reviews or to establish a written basis for a decision about which employee is best qualified for a promotion. Documentation over a long time period is especially helpful in those situations, as a manager can look back at trends showing whether or not each candidate would be a good fit for the new position.
In a situation where an employee isn’t meeting behavior or performance standards required for the position, those notes may become documentation of verbal warnings, written warnings, suspensions or terminations, typically in that order. That stepped process is designed to guide the employee in maintaining their employment or advancing their career. When the employee doesn’t embrace that guidance, the written documentation is in place to be the basis (and later, a company’s defense) for an employment decision.
Burden of proof is on the employee, so details help
That said, as a manager you probably know that even the best-documented situation may not deter an employee from claiming unemployment or filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Specifics of times and dates for behaviors that lead to employment decisions, along with appropriate, progressive disciplining are keys to defending employment decisions in those situations as well. Most of the time, the burden of proof is on the employer and all of those details help.
Consistent documentation helps managers to remember what has happened and attach times, dates and other details to a situation that you might not remember accurately. Whether it’s time to make an employment decision (such as a raise, a promotion, or a disciplinary action) or to defend it, documentation can help you remember the important details that need to be included to help others understand the reason for the employment action.
Trisha Crigger, Human Resources Generalist