Dont-be-a-statistic1. Unsigned or Undated Documents. Dumb as it sounds, this is the number one failure in documentation.  Sign and date everything! And if it’s a document drawn up with an employee, have the employee do the same.

2. Illegibility. Leave the scrawl to the doctors. In court, neatness DOES count!

3. Late Documentation. Judges and juries look suspiciously at disciplinary or other reports written weeks or months after the incident they describe.

4. Inaccuracy. That document looks perfect, except it’s got the wrong facts. Even one error of fact makes the entire document suspect.

5. Unsupported Conclusions. Don’t write that, “Worker X was drunk” unless you’ve also documented the reasons you think so, e.g. “liquor on breath, unsteady walk, slurred speech.” Including the statements of objective witnesses will support your conclusion even more.  As will a positive alcohol test given to the employee.

6. Waffling. If Mike isn’t making his 200 widgets per hour, don’t just write “Mike’s work performance must improve.” The judge will ask, “Improve from what to what?” Tell it like it is, with specifics. And add any objective reports (dated machine operation counts, for example) that prove your statements.

7. Don’t Make Excuses. Statements in your documents such as “You failed to do X but I know we’ve all been pushing hard lately,” may win you a nice guy award from your workers, but it won’t win your case.

8. Don’t Lie … Even to Be Nice! Saying someone was let go due to a restructuring rather than for cause, if there was cause, can backfire big time in a wrongful termination suit.

9. Inconsistency in Documentation. If you’ve written up Sally for an infraction, you’d better have written up everyone who did it. Otherwise you’re wide open to a charge of discrimination.

10. Personal Notes. Those little scribbles you make to yourself and never show the worker may end up shown to a judge instead. Keep the document official, which leads us to…

11. The “60 Minutes” Test. Never write anything that you wouldn’t want read aloud on investigative TV or written on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

12. Don’t Overfocus. Writing up every tiny infraction makes you seem petty and takes attention away from the big reason for disciplinary action.

13. Don’t Underfocus. Same problem, at the other extreme. The manager who writes up only the job-ending incident and leaves off the major happenings that led to it makes the termination seem emotionally-driven and spontaneous. That’s not how you want to appear in court.

 Bottom line: Keep documents concise, legible, and specific…

And please don’t forget to sign and date them!!


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