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Proper documentation enables fair, balanced, legal disciplinary plan

Posted February 21, 2017

By Michael Henckel, associate editor, J. J. Keller & Associates

Managers often push documentation tasks to the back burner, and as a result, records are not created in a timely fashion. Many managers admit they do not document everything they should, and often it will be weeks or months after a conversation with an employee before they create a record of the interaction.

When a disciplinary situation arises, however, communicating the problem to the employee without documented performance records can be difficult. Clear documentation is necessary to create a fair and balanced disciplinary plan, but equally important, complete and accurate employee records can help you and your company defend against an employee’s claim of discrimination following a disciplinary action or termination.

Defending your case

Minimal or nonexistent documentation creates potential liability for your company. In the event that an employee raises a discrimination claim, straightforward documentation of his or her poor performance or conduct issues can help you establish that your disciplinary action or termination decision was not related to discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, disability, or national origin. Without proper documentation, defending your position is much more difficult.

Creating your documentation

Creating proper documentation does take time; however, when you understand the consequences involved with not maintaining proper records, the value becomes apparent. What follows are some ideas for creating well-defined documentation:

  • Date all conversations. This may seem like an obvious step, but this one is often forgotten (especially when the conversation is informal). When managing multiple employees, it can be difficult to remember dates and sequences of events. As time passes, dated documents will make it easier to place employee actions and conversations properly in a timeline.
  • Document in a timely manner. Strive to create documentation of conversations with employees on the same day the meeting takes place. Memories are never perfect, and waiting too long to capture the conversation allows details of the meeting to fade.
  • Remain neutral. When creating documentation of conversations, avoid abbreviating or embellishing what was said. Also, try to avoid making assumptions. Write down as clearly and specifically as you can what both you and the employee said. For example, instead of documenting that “Mary made her usual excuses,” write down exactly what she said.
  • Create a balanced record. Be sure to include both positive and negative interactions in employee records. If only negative incidents are included, your records may not accurately reflect the overall performance of the employee, and your records can appear biased. Updating employee records on a timelier basis (instead of only when an incident occurs) can help capture positive actions and create a more balanced employee file.

About the author:

Michael Henckel

Michael Henckel is an associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource company that offers products and services to address the range of responsibilities held by human resources and corporate professionals. Henckel specializes in topics such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, employee classification, and compensation. He is the author of J. J. Keller’s FSLA Essentials guidance manual. For more information, visit