7 key elements of bulletproof documentation

Whether it’s the details of an employee’s FMLA request or a description of a problem staffer’s activities, HR pros know solid and consistent documentation is of the utmost importance.
More often than not, it’s documentation that determines an employer’s fate in court.

7 critical steps

To make sure you’re covering all of your bases, employment attorney Allison West offers the following seven documentation best practices:
1. Describe company expectations. This is one of the most essential elements of all documentation, as well as one of the hardest to write.
Good documentation should be broken down so that six, eight, even 12 months later it makes perfect sense and will hold up in court.
2. Describe the behavior or performance that must change. Employers have to be careful to describe the behavior and not the individual. That means keeping all observations job-related and using only objective criteria in documentation.
Example: You arrived approximately 15 minutes late on April 22, 23 and ….
3. Include the employee’s explanation, too. There are two sides to every story, and it’s important to include the employee’s version. Not only does this show two-way communication, it can also help tie the staffer to his or her story.
4. Detail the action plan and goals. Here’s where you’ll want to detail the steps an employee should take to improve performance, conduct, etc., as well as the things his or her manager will do to assist in the process.
5. Include time expectations for correcting behavior or performance. You want to let the worker know when you expect changes to take place. And you want to avoid vague statements that are open to interpretation, such as “fix it as soon as possible.”
6. Be sure to follow up. If you’re expecting an employee to make certain changes, it’s critical to follow up.
At this stage, you should make it clear to the employee what part of his/her performance will be reviewed, any improvements that are expected and any additional training that’s needed. You’ll also want to amend the documentation when necessary to describe the follow-up.
7. Spell out the consequences if problems continue. The final step of the documentation process is where you clearly state what will happen if the performance or behavior doesn’t improve – e.g., discipline, demotion, additional training, termination.
Based on “Seven Steps to Creating Bulletproof Documentation” by Allison West, as presented at the 2013 SHRM conference in Chicago