Document, document, document! It's the mantra of the human resources profession.

Create timely and thorough documentation for all employment decisions. On the other hand, supervisors and managers often view documenting as a chore they simply don't have time for.

But do they have time for the following all-too-common scenarios?

  • Rebecca, has performed her job poorly for several months. She is consistently late and her work is often inaccurate. The manager has spoken with her and given deadlines for improvement but the deadlines have come and gone. The company decides to fire her but wants to wait until the manager returns from a quick business trip. Before he returns, Rebecca suddenly goes out on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for a problem with her back. Upon return from leave, the company fires her for poor performance. She claims the company retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave. Without documentation of her performance problems, their coaching efforts or the timing of the termination decision, the company has no defense against her claim of retaliation.
  • Joe performs some aspects of his job well but is often slow to get back to customers. Co-workers pick up his slack. Resentful, two of the best employees quit so the supervisor knows she needs to fix the situation quickly. She approaches Human Resources about firing and replacing Joe. The HR administrator check's Joe's personnel file and finds only positive performance evaluations. So she says, "You can't. At least not yet." The supervisor and HR work together on a coaching and performance improvement plan that will take a couple of weeks to implement. There are two vacancies to fill and remaining staff members grumble more loudly than ever.
  • Marcus, a supervisor in a retail chain asks his new, young employee, Kaitlyn, out on dates every day. She tells him, "No, thank you" but he keeps asking and makes comments about her body that make her uncomfortable. It is Kaitlyn's first job and she doesn't know how to handle the situation so she quits. She thinks she may have been given a copy of the company's sexual harassment policy on the first day along with other paperwork. No one told her what was in the policy and she didn't sign any acknowledgment that she received it. Her mother helps her contact the EEOC. They decide to pursue two claims: one for sexual harassment and one for constructive discharge. (Constructive discharge is when an employment situation is made so intolerable that a reasonable person would quit.)

All of these scenarios are preventable! Supervisors and managers and those responsible for handling human resources should know that creating timely documentation is a critical part of their role. Here are some reasons why:

1. Documentation is vital in an employer's defense against discrimination, retaliation and other employment claims;

2. Memory alone will likely serve poorly in court. A lack of documentation is a glaring omission that could paint the employer in a potentially suspect light, particularly in a jury trial;

3. Documentation can explain how a situation was handled when an individual involved is no longer available to testify;

4. Documentation can verify that employees have read (or heard) and understand information they were given;

5. Documentation helps supervisors provide accurate and constructive performance feedback to employees.

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