5 Quick Tips for Documenting Employee Issues

February 11, 2019

We routinely receive calls from employers who want to terminate an employee (or have been sued for doing so) but do not have a good paper trail to support their decision. Without documentation, the terminated employee inevitably claims that he or she was never warned and had no idea there was any problem with performance and, thus, the termination must be discrimination based on a protected class. Without sufficient documentation, termination decisions are more difficult to explain, result in factual disputes that prevent early dismissal of a subsequent charge or lawsuit, and typically cost more to defend. However, this is one of the easiest issues for employers to address.

Don’t be afraid to document.Many supervisors believe that documenting an issue will upset the employee, ruin a working relationship and create conflict that they would rather avoid. While that may be true, by failing to document issues, supervisors are not protecting themselves or the company. Seasoned human resource professionals will reject a supervisor’s request to terminate an employee for a chronic issue if there is no documentation.


Don’t sugar coat. The worst mistake an employer can make is to give undeserved, or even false, written praise or a positive review to avoid confrontation. If an employee is not performing well, don’t dance around the issue in a performance review or other documentation.


It’s okay to document a verbal discussion. Just because an action may not warrant a written warning or is the first incident doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of documentation.


Relate back. When documenting an employment issue, refer back to prior warnings or discussions whether those warnings or discussions were documented or not. This is an easy way to correct the lack of documentation of an initial incident and to show the number of steps taken to address the situation.


Use Human Resources. Human Resources can help you word a written warning or counseling notation and avoid unnecessary mistakes. HR not only can provide guidance but will then also be in the loop on the employee issue and won’t be surprised when you later request more stringent action against the employee.