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As an employer facing an employee’s potential legal complaints, your best legal defense is timely documentation.

The key to documenting incidents in your workplace is to look into the future. Imagine how others will see your actions down the proverbial road.

In other words, make certain you take the appropriate steps to make sure your documentation will be lawsuit-proof.

That means no mistakes in documenting the who, what, when, where and why and how of the employee incidents.


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Three principles of documentation

1. Accuracy

Memories can fail so timely note-taking is imperative. Your version will be trusted if you take good notes.

Additionally, you’ll want a written record for your files if the person leaves your workplace.


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2. Specificity

A judge, jury or a hearing officer from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will believe you’re more credible if you write a detailed account. Focus on facts – not impressions – so others will believe in your authenticity.

3. Agreement

It’s much more difficult to challenge your account if you get an agreement in writing. Ask your employees to write their version of an incident. Compare it to yours.

Get statements from witnesses to boost your case. This is especially important if your version differs from the employee’s.

Always … always… always have a paper trail. Get into the habit of creating documentation including the dates, times and names of the people who were involved.


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Key elements

1. Be descriptive in documenting employee behavior and performance. Make it possible for a judge or jury to visualize what actually happened.

Use concrete facts and be objective – not phrases that could be construed as mere subjectivity.

2. Justify your disciplinary action by describing the resulting adverse impacts from the employee’s behavior.

3. Keep any and all physical evidence. Attach the evidence to the reprimand of the employee.

4. Attach or include the employee’s response to your assessment. In this way, you’ll demonstrate you’ve given the employee an opportunity to respond.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related sources of information:

Human Resources: 12 Errors to Avoid in Evaluations — How should you properly evaluate employees? Make sure you are careful to avoid errors in evaluations. Naturally, you want to praise good performance and discourage bad. Commonly, there are 12 errors that managers make in performance evaluations.

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.

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.

For Best HR Performance Reviews, 10 Sample Goal Phrases – A well-written set of performance goals work to motivate employees and help them to focus better on their responsibilities. They must be written with the right phrasing so they inspire performance and don’t invite costly lawsuits.

Best Employee-Handbook Values to Avoid Legal Issues— Neither you, nor your company and nor should your employees be relying on an employee handbook with illegal or antiquated policies. Here are employee-handbook values to consider.

“The five steps in teaching an employee new skills are preparation, explanation, showing, observation and supervision.”

-Bruce Barton


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.