A Documentation Refresher

February 14, 2011, 3:19 PM

Judges, juries, and administrative agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) want to see employers document important personnel actions, such as counseling sessions, disciplinary actions, and terminations, among other things. Keep in mind, however, that not all documents are created equal.

First of all, good documentation is factual. For example, a disciplinary action notice issued to an employee with performance problems should not say that the employee is "lazy." It should say something factual about the employee's production, by identifying his production versus quota or his production output compared to other company employees.

Second, good documentation includes information about what is expected of the employee in the future, how the employee might improve his performance, the timeframe expected for improvement, and what the consequences will be if the employee fails to improve as required.

Finally, good documentation is timely. Documentation that is contemporaneous to the objectionable behavior of the employee is most effective in supporting an employer's action. Documents that are created after the fact are less credible to judges, juries, and administrative agencies.

It's always a good time to review your documentation policies and the forms your company uses to document employment actions, because documents are key tools for employers defending personnel actions. --David J. Sullivan