HR best practice: “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen”

Tue Nov 19 2019

If you do not document your conversations with employees, it's as if that conversation never happened. Important discussions and meetings with your employees should be fully documented and written down. Verbal agreements are not considered sound-proof in the event of litigation. Therefore, in order to protect yourself and your company, it’s important to put everything that’s discussed in writing.

Having back up documentation as to your conversations with your employees is vital evidence that you can use when in court. In the event of an employee-related dispute, it’s crucial that employers have reliable evidence to defend themselves. When dealing with any employee, keeping records of your discussions can help tremendously when you’re facing a lawsuit.

At first, you can create "notes to file" when you have a verbal coaching with your employee - Type the conversation and include it in the employee's personnel file. Document your employee’s performance and behavior as it may be helpful evidence to use if any issues arise. If you’re training or disciplining your employees, documenting the conversation can help you reference back to what you discussed, later down the road.

After the initial note to file, or coaching; if you do not see any improvement, then begin the progressive discipline process. These conversations should be documented, signed by the employee and inserted into their personnel file. If the employee’s behavior and/or performance continues to be sub-standard, it is important to take action. The employer can decide how extreme the matter is and make a judgment based on that. Remember, the punishment must fit the crime. Document the conversations that you and the employee have and make sure that they sign an acknowledgement of receipt of the coaching & counseling form. If the employee refuses to sign, simply write down: “Employee refused to sign” and provide the employee with a copy of the form.

Email Communications – Although email communications are prevalent in today’s world, they should serve as notes to file; not necessarily appropriate for disciplinary notices. Keep all email communications as notes to file but use appropriate memorandum type documents/disciplinary action notices to document unacceptable work performance.

Setting Precedents - It is important that all employees are treated alike, for like behaviors. If you provide a verbal warning for a first set of attendance issues, then make sure all employees who behave in the same manner, receive the same level of discipline. Otherwise, employees may have a case against you, and relate the disparity in treatment to a protected category.

We assist employers by crafting policies that outline their company’s expectations; and the consequences should an employee fail to follow those policies. Employers and management staff need to take precautions in order to protect themselves. Our experienced HR consultants can put together a clear policy that lets employees know what the company expects from them and what actions will follow if they fail to meet those expectations.