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When creating a paper trail regarding incidents involving your employees, take great care in your human resources documentation.

As you know, for example, allegations of discrimination or harassment are widespread.

Further, you’ll face the likelihood of costly legal hassles if you make just one error in workplace investigations.

You must anticipate possible adverse ramifications – how a jury or judge even months later would view your paperwork if the situation becomes a legal issue.

Copy a journalistic practice

Put another way, borrow a basic tenet of journalism, as though you’re creating a document that might appear in a news-media headline.

To survive any potential legal scrutiny and public relations nightmare, this means making astute use of the five Ws: Who, what, when, where and why.

The five Ws help in the establishment of the three pillars of documentation – accuracy, believability and agreement – which you need for success.

ABA, the acronym for the three pillars:

1. Accuracy

Paper trail … paper trail … paper trail. Merely relying on your memory is a recipe for disaster. Always be careful writing employee reviews and in creating a paper trail.

Your best legal defense results from accurate and timely record-keeping. Stellar documentation is vital to bogus claims pertaining to compensation, discrimination, hiring or promotions.

Take good notes immediately following workplace incidents.

Good record-keeping enable you to defend your actions and to prevent an employee from successfully challenging you in court or before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

This pertains both to current employees and those who leave your organization.

2. Believability

Authenticity matters. If you’re ever interrogated by the EEOC, called for a deposition or in testifying, you can expect to be evaluated for credibility. It’s your word versus someone else.

An employer who shows or quotes from copious, accurate notes is more likely to be believed.

Specifics count for objectivity. Make sure you record the facts, not your impressions of an employee’s attitude or behavior.

3. Agreement

It’s much more difficult for employees to change their minds and claims of what actually occurred, if you can get an initial agreement in writing.

So, do your best to persuade your employees to participate in your record-keeping. Persuade them to rehash their sense of what transpired. Compare their summaries to yours.

If there’s not an agreement of what happened, it helps to rely on detailed accounts from witnesses.

Continue to be diligent in your record-keeping. Do it on a daily basis. Again, remember to incorporate a basic tenet of journalism.

Always include the five Ws: Who, what, when, where and why.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related strategies:

Vital Strategies to Avoid EEOC Discrimination Suits – Federal employment discrimination complaints are sky-high — a sad commentary for businesses and public agencies that are large enough for a human resources department. Here’s what you need to know.

Does Your Sexual Harassment Program Pass or Fail? – If you employ a sexual harasser, you’re risking disasters on five fronts – legal, financial, workplace morale, and public relations including on social media. Here’s what to do.

Legal HR Issues? Best Practices in Workplace Investigations – As an employer, one of your biggest nightmares can be issues involving your employees. There can be many reasons to conduct an investigation. “Action expresses priorities,” said Mohandas Gandhi. So you should act quickly.

Management – 3 Common Mistakes in Performance Reviews – Not only do most workers stress over getting performance reviews, many bosses stress over having to give them. For management solutions, see these management tips.

If it’s Necessary to Fire Employee on FMLA, Here’s How … – Despite what might you have been told, you can discharge an employee while on leave for cause under the Family and Medical Leave Act. If you feel you must terminate such an employee, here are the guidelines.

Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.”

-Lee Iacocca


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.