Good Documentation Can Save Your Business

By Robin Stevens, Internal Operations Coach

Generating and managing fair, accurate, and non-biased documentation of team member behavior and performance is one of the most important skills all supervisors need to develop. Creating even as much as a handwritten note, is a potential litigation exhibit that could have significant consequences down the road. Good documentation by supervisors and managers can mean the difference between a company winning and losing an employment-related lawsuit.

For example, good documentation of a team member’s pattern of poor performance and discipline can establish that the team member’s firing wasn’t related to discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, disability, or national origin. An employer may have a much more difficult time proving that without such documentation.

Good documentation also can make employment-related claims less of a headache. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other federal and state agencies that enforce employment laws often ask employers during investigations to provide documentation of performance issues involving both the team member who filed the charge and other team members who have had similar issues. Again, the presence of such documentation may make the proceeding much easier for the business to defend.

The absence of documentation of a team members’ behavior and performance may prompt an agency to dig deeper, push to interview witnesses, or take other measures designed to obtain information that it expects should have been documented and to seek reasons for the absence of documentation.

Documentation is critical because memories aren’t perfect. Remembering a specific performance issue involving one of a many team members months or even years ago isn’t easy. Moreover, because the unfortunate reality is that we live in an increasingly litigious society, a team member may deny that the performance issue ever happened leaving the employer in a “he said, she said” situation.

Performance evaluations and progressive communication go hand in hand as tools supervisors and managers can successfully use to correct behavior, motivate team members, and set team member goals.

Performance appraisals, used correctly, can be an effective means of preventing lawsuits. They keep team members apprised of how they actually stand with the employer and prevent surprises in the future. A team member who has consistently received low ratings should not be surprised when she/he is ultimately fired for poor performance.

Generally, most employers conduct written performance reviews annually or semi-annually. However, all companies should consider conducting unscheduled reviews if changes occur in a team members’ performance or duties. Some important considerations in written performance reviews include: job-related criteria, training, effectiveness ratings, comments, honesty, objectivity and raises and bonuses.

No one want to believe that one of their trusted employees that you worked so hard to recruit, hire and train could ever turn on you. But the truth is, it happens. Be prepared. Start employee files for each of your team members today and start documenting. Hopefully you’ll never need it.

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