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Policy for Documenting Discipline

Documenting discipline:
The 3 cardinal rules for managers

To be successful, employee feedback should not be an annual or even quarterly event. It should be a routine part of a manager's day.

In the same way, managers should make documentation of employee performance, behavior and discipline a regular habit.

It's OK if this documentation is informal, e.g., handwritten notes tossed in an employee's file. But documentation should always include the dates and names of all parties involved.

As with any documentation, managers should stick to the facts and stay objective when documenting discipline, avoiding opinions.

Strong documentation will be especially important if an employee or ex-employee ever files a legal complaint saying his or her termination or discipline was based on illegal discrimination (race, age, gender, disability, religion, etc.). Sound, ongoing documentation by management will prove that performance—not bias—was the reason for the firing.

Best documentation practices

You can help limit your organization's legal liability by counseling managers to keep three basic principles in mind when documenting discipline.

Documentation should be:

1. Immediate. Managers should take notes right after an incident occurs. It's much harder for an employee to cast doubt on the boss's motives if the written explanation comes right after the action.

2. Accurate and believable. When an outside observer (judge, jury or EEO investigator) is called to judge your side of the story, detailed observations add authenticity. The more specific the documentation, the greater the credibility.

Example: Instead of noting that "Bill's work has been sloppy lately,” it's better to note, "In each of his last three reports, Bill had at least two important accounting mistakes that needed revisions.”

3. Agreed upon. If both sides agree on what happened, it's much tougher for either side to later change claims. Try to get employees involved in the documentation process.

Managers should ask the employee to summarize her input in writing, and then compare it to their own recollections. If they can't reach an agreement, try to get detailed statements from witnesses.

Business Management Daily enlightens us with Bulletproof Documentation Tips.

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