What’s So Important About Employee Documentation?

By Carleen Mitchell

Administrative Manager, Alaska Public Entity Insurance

It’s the mantra of all human resource managers: document, document, document! In the instance of an EEO complaint or an employment practices liability claim, one of the first things an investigator or attorney will look for is documentation supporting an employer’s actions. Ensuring that all personnel actions are appropriately documented can save an employer (and their insurance company!) thousands of dollars in defense fees.

There are a wide variety of situations that would warrant documentation. These include:

  • Poor performance
  • Violation of company policy, procedure, practice, or code of conduct
  • Attendance issues
  • Demotions/Promotions
  • Changes in job duties
  • Mid-year and annual performance reviews
  • Training accomplishments and needs
  • Bonus and merit increase decisions

You may have noticed that not all the items on this list are negative. Positive employment actions should be noted as well to ensure clear documentation of how a decision was made in case another employee challenges the decision or feels it was unfair or biased.

When documenting, keep these basic guidelines in mind to help ensure your documentation stands up to scrutiny by anyone reviewing it:

  • Before addressing an issue and, subsequently when documenting action taken, start with a review of your agency policies. If a specific policy has been violated, point out the policy. Sometimes the situation is not so strait forward as to be able to follow your policies exactly. In these cases, consider how similar situations have been handled in the past (reference past documentation!).
  • Take hand written notes during any meeting, even if they are brief. Just a few words will help you ensure the accuracy of documentation you create after the meeting. Be sure to include when the meeting took place, who was present, what was discussed, the employee’s response, and the outcome, including the date for any follow-up meeting.
  • Do not delay in creating documentation. Documentation written long after the fact is not likely to be viewed as credible.
  • Describe the circumstances that made the action necessary. Document only the facts, not subjective judgements or conclusions. It is okay to note any reason the employee offered for their actions.
  • Be thorough. Ask yourself, if someone outside the organization read the documentation, would they understand the situation and the impact it had on other employees or the company? Or is there too much company jargon and too many assumptions? Consider having an appropriate individual (HR manager or another manager in the employee’s chain of command) review the documentation for clarity and thoroughness.
  • Dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Ensure that, whenever appropriate, the documentation is signed by the supervisor and employee and that it is dated. If an employee refuses to sign the documentation, a witness should sign to indicate the employee’s refusal to sign.

As a final reminder, before terminating any employee, be sure review your decision with an attorney. For most employment practices liability insurance coverage to be available, before taking any action to end an employment relationship the employer must first confer with an attorney of their choice. Employers should speak with their insurance provider for specific policy coverage.

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The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.