Human Resources News & Insights

7 must-haves for defensible documentation

You know how important clear and thorough documentation is. But your managers may be another story. 

Thankfully, employment law attorney Allison West has some steps managers can use to make documenting performance issues less painful — and more defensible if ever brought up during a lawsuit.

Her firm, Employment Practices Specialists, helps companies prevent and resolve employment claims.

West shared these steps at the SHRM15 Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

What managers need to do

Of course, it’s smart to record the good with the bad. But when performance problems arise, West said managers need to include seven points in their documentation:

  1. The unmet expectations

What goals, policies or standards has the employee not met?

It’s good to refer back to a specific job description or a code of conduct, and be specific about why the conduct is a problem.

  1. Behavior that needs to change

Focus on the conduct alone, not the person, and stick to objective observations and details, West says.

Example: If you think a worker is drunk on the job, write what makes you think that. Did the worker slur words together, stumble to the desk, or have alcohol on his or her breath?

It’s also good to record examples of how the conduct impacted others and the work environment.

  1. The employee’s explanation for the behavior

It’s crucial that documentation reflect the worker’s side of the story for several reasons:

  • It shows you’re acting fairly toward the worker by having a two-way conversation about the issue
  • It keeps workers accountable for their actions and records why they believe the issue is happening, and
  • It ensures you’re getting the full story, which may reveal info you can use to help the worker improve.
  1. The action plan

This doesn’t have to be as detailed as a performance improvement plan, West says.

But it should include specifics about what steps the worker plans to take to self-correct, and what you’ll do to help the employee improve.

  1. How much time the worker has to correct the problem

Let the worker know when you expect changes to take place.

Avoid vague statements like, “as soon as possible” or “right away.”

Instead, say something like, “The report due on the 15th should be free of typographical errors.”

  1. The consequences that will result if the problem persists

Use punishment sparingly, West says. Hold off on using it at the start of a worker’s performance issues while you try to coach them to improve.

But when you do have to bring punishment into the discussion, be specific about the actions you’ll take.

  1. The results of follow-up meetings with the worker

Follow-ups are crucial for tracking progress and showing fairness.

In the preceding meeting, you should let workers know what the follow-up will entail, such as:

  • What aspect of performance you’ll be looking at
  • What specific improvements the employee is expected to make
  • What additional training, if any, will be given, and
  • What the consequences for not improving may be.

After the follow up, detail what happened – both the positives and negatives. Be specific, and document the employee’s explanations, too.

Cite: “Seven Steps to Creating Bulletproof Documentation,” a presentation by Allison West at the SHRM15 Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

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