It is the rare employer that does not have disciplinary issues with their employees from time to time. Most human resources departments realize that these issues need to be documented. However, truly effective documentation can be challenging.
There are many steps an employer can take to ensure that they can defend any disciplinary actions taken should the need arise. Thorough written documentation can end up being the key to a jury deciding in favor of the employer.
When documenting a workplace problem, be clear about stating exactly what the problem is and what that means for both the employer and employee. Then outline how the problem should be corrected, so that the employee understands both exactly what is expected and the consequences of failing to meet those expectations.
Effective documentation should use these four guidelines:
Consistency: Disciplinary actions must be applied objectively and consistently. It is not fair to write up some but not all employees who violate the same rules.
Detailed and thorough language: When documenting performance issues, language must be precise and objective. A detailed explanation of the issue will provide a clear picture of what the problem was and why disciplinary action was needed.
For example, it is not enough to write only that the employee failed to follow procedures. Good documentation outlines what the procedure is, how the employee deviated from procedure, and the consequences of failing to follow procedure. Use clear and common language and avoid using legal jargon.
Remove emotion from the equation: Anger and sarcasm have no place in a disciplinary write-up and can be counterproductive. Effective documentation should be free of emotional commentary regardless of the problem being addressed.
Thorough analysis of the problem: In order for an employee to improve their job performance, the employer’s expectations must be clearly written out in a way that is easily understood. Analyze all aspects of the work problem, such as training, equipment, and supervision, to see what can be done to help the employee succeed.
Additionally, this analysis should show how the employee’s performance impacts their immediate colleagues, the rest of their department, and the company itself. A thorough examination of the performance problem can help reveal the path to correcting it quickly.
Effective documentation must be done in a timely fashion as matters occur. It is important to show that the situation was recognized immediately and addressed. However, where this is not the case, do not attempt to backdate documents. Instead document why there was a delay and explain it. Backdating can be extremely damaging to employer credibility.
When a problem occurs and is being documented, this can be an opportunity to include prior warnings or conversations that were not written down. Including this information demonstrates that the problem was acknowledged, and all of the steps taken to deal with it.
Verbal warnings can and should be documented, even if a written warning has not yet been issued. Documenting a verbal discussion as a simple note can support any future written warnings by showing the problem existed and was previously addressed.
Unfortunately, most every employer will encounter an employee that needs to be terminated. Proper documentation shows clearly the circumstances that led to termination and is the easiest way to defend from litigation. If you have employment documentation questions or concerns, contact an employment lawyer from MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106 or complete our online form. From our office in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients in Philadelphia, Chester County and throughout the state.