In our last blog post on improving your workplace documentation practices, we discussed the type of workplace events and communications that should be documented by employers. This post provides practical tips on how to document.
Although sufficient workplace documentation is crucial, poor workplace documentation can actually hurt an employer and weaken your attorney’s ability to win your employment case. What employers need is effective workplace documentation. Effective documentation gives you (the employer) credibility, allows you to demonstrate that you followed the law, and serves as “Exhibit A” if you go to trial.
Here are some dos and don’ts of effective workplace documentation.
- Do record specific objective and factual information. Specific information (who, when, where, why, etc.) allows you to recall and support workplace events and decisions.
- Do follow consistent documentation practices. Similar situations should be treated and documented in a similar manner to avoid claims of retaliation or discrimination.
- Do reference or include relevant back-up information. Reference past relevant events, specific workplace policies, procedures, and rules that are involved in the situation.
- Do allow for employee acknowledgment and feedback where appropriate. It demonstrates the employee was given information; it also describes the employee’s reaction and rebuttal to the information conveyed.
- Do proofread the document. Is the document clear, objective, and complete? Beware the perils of e-mails and texts where the casual nature of the medium often leads to inadvertent, but costly, mistakes.
- Do sign and date the document. If the document is worth preparing, it should be legible and the author of the document and the date should be noted.
- Do not include personal feelings, impressions or opinions. Stick to the facts. Inflammatory or judgmental comments will not help your case.
- Do not use legal or technical terms and conclusions. Ask yourself whether a person outside your organization will understand the information the document is intended to communicate.
- Do not write personal notes on company documents. It might help you to remember the candidate if you jot down notes of race, gender, etc., but such a notation can wreak havoc in a discrimination case.
- Do not use “always” or “never.” Most employee conduct is not absolute. The use of these terms can affect your credibility.
- Do not “embellish” or “sugarcoat.” Inflation of employee performance makes it difficult to support disciplinary action. Telling the good and the bad, allows employees to accurately gauge their performance and conduct.
- Do not backdate documents. This practice is dangerous and in some cases, illegal.
Consult your legal counsel if you have questions on how to document a workplace event or observation.
Next post in this workplace documentation practices series: When to document? Immediately!