You've been sued by a former employee and now you're facing the music in court. You're not worried, though. You've documented why you fired the guy, and you're sure that once the judge sees it, he'll be singing your tune.
Shock of shocks! Your documentation is found wanting, and now you are ... wanting $20,000 to pay the judgment against you!
What went wrong? Recently, our sister newsletter, HR Manager's Legal Reporter, published a list of items that sink HR documentation. Here are the top 10:
1. Unsigned Or Undated Documents. This is the number one failure in documentation. Sign and date everything! Have the employee do the same.
2. Illegibility. You didn't go to med school, so leave the scrawl to the doctors. In court, neatness counts!
3. Late Documentation. Judges and juries look askance at disciplinary or other reports written weeks or months after the incident they describe.
4. Inaccuracy. That document looks perfect, but the facts are wrong. Even one error makes the entire document suspect.
5. Unsupported Conclusions. Don't write, "Worker X was drunk" without documenting the reasons you think so, e.g. "liquor on breath, slurred speech." Statements by objective witnesses will buttress your conclusion even more.
6. Waffling. If Mike isn't making 200 widgets per hour, don't just write, "Mike's performance must improve." The judge will ask, "Improve from what to what?" Be specific.
7. Don't Make Excuses. Statements such as "You failed-but I know we've all been pushing hard lately," may win you a nice guy award, but it won't win your case.
8. Don't Lie ... Even To Be Nice! Saying someone was let go due in a layoff rather than for cause, if there was cause, can backfire big time in a wrongful termination suit.
9. Be Consistent. If you've written up Sally for an infraction, you'd better have written up everyone who did it. Otherwise you're open to a charge of discrimination.
10. Don't Over Or Under Focus. Writing up every tiny infraction makes you seem petty. But writing only the job-ending incident makes you appear emotion-driven.
Of course, all of the above should not be practiced just by you but by everyone in your organization. That's especially critical if you are in a one-person or very small HR department, as you can't be watching everyone at once. For this, and other HR matters, you need a resource that does the watching for you.