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Documentation for Employers: 101

by Jennifer Shaw and Melissa Whitehead | | April 15, 2024

For any number of reasons, employers may find themselves lacking sufficient documentation supporting their legitimate, business-related reasons for employment-related decisions. Maybe they’ve been avoiding uncomfortable conversations with an employee. Or HR has an overwhelming workload, and simply cannot add the task of writing a memo summarizing every personnel decision and meeting. Regardless of the reason, below are some practical tips to make documentation less daunting, and to remind you why it is so important!

The Importance of Documentation

Documentation serves many important functions. First and foremost, good documentation guides an employee’s expectations. As we often say, employees who feel blindsided by a disciplinary action or termination often create their own story to explain the “real” reason for the adverse action. Clearly (and honestly!) documenting performance expectations and challenges helps employees understand what is expected of them.

Of course, sometimes employers can do everything right and nonetheless find yourself defending a claim. In those cases, documentation helps both reduce the risk of litigation and provide a defense if a claim is filed.   

Practical Tips

Whether you are documenting a performance review or a disciplinary action, the following tips make the process less daunting and the end result more useful:

  • Be timely – prepare the documentation contemporaneously with the action
  • Include all relevant information – remember the five “W”s: Who, What, When, Where, Why?
  • Include objective facts, rather than assumptions, labels, legal conclusions, or subjective opinions
  • Be specific – include specific examples instead of broad generalizations
  • Do not exaggerate

Finally, keep in mind that “documentation” need not be formal. A written memorandum signed by the employee is nice, but may not always be practical. Sometimes the best you can do is send yourself a contemporaneous email summarizing a meeting or conversation. That email is far better than no documentation, and it will benefit the organization if you find yourself defending an employment decision.

Please join us for more performance management tips and guidance in our upcoming interactive webinar on June 18, 2024: “Performance Management with a Modern Spin.” For more information and to register, click here.

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