Documentation of an employee’s performance is the most important document a supervisor is responsible for. The information documented provides evidence of the employee’s performance, along with any disciplinary action. Accurate documentation of performance problems is absolutely necessary to justify decisions regarding discipline or discharge.
Unfortunately, not enough employers use these tools consistently to produce the accurate documentation necessary to defend against employment suits. In virtually every employment lawsuit, the legitimacy of the employer’s decision to discipline or dismiss will be at issue. This article discusses the proper way to document employee actions.
Performance Evaluations: Failure to evaluate employees consistently can be the subject of a lawsuit, such as where an employee claims that s/he was treated differently because s/he was never given a proper evaluation. Employees also frequently argue that they never had notice of performance problems. You could end up in hot water if you attempt to discipline employees whose performance has not been consistently evaluated. If you aren’t consistently evaluating employees, it would be wise to set up a schedule and stick to it.
Warnings: Unfortunately, too few employers regularly document the warnings given to employees. Many managers are hesitant to document trivial problems such as being late to work or taking extended breaks. Yet, in many cases, documentation of these problems would be very useful evidence in showing that the employee has a performance problem. Documentation of this nature should take the form of a short memo from the supervisor to the employee and be retained in the employee’s personnel file.
All documentation of conversations with employees should include the date of the conversation, your name and title, and the employee’s name and title. This sounds obvious but it is rarely done on a consistent basis.
When documenting behavior issues, it is crucial to observe the behavior and not diagnose personal problems. Well-substantiated documentation will provide objective information and help the supervisor avoid becoming personally involved in the employee’s problems.
It’s important to follow your company’s guidelines to ensure that you are in compliance with privacy laws. When documenting any incident, write them down as they happen. Be factual and include the date, time and specifics of the incident. Record the actual incident, not impressions or gossip. Keep the document confidential and relevant to job performance.
Once documentation has taken place, prepare to formally interview the employee. Discuss the matter with management or human resources personnel to clarify applicable company policies. Gather and summarize all related documentation such as past job performance reviews or incident reports. Identify what needs to be done to rectify the situation. Last, but not least, try to anticipate the employee’s reaction so that you can be prepared.
The objective of the meeting is to advise the employee of the specifics of his or her poor performance and to get an agreement on the process to obtain improved future performance. Don’t go overboard in documentation, as this can be just as harmful as lack of documentation.