Actions may speak louder than words, but few things speak louder than words that are documented.
Cases can be won and lost on documentation alone. In fact, I once defended a discrimination claim in which the managers seemed to have handled the situation perfectly – they followed the company disciplinary policies to the letter, and they worked closely with Human Resources before terminating an employee. On its face, this looked like a well- documented poor performance issue, warranting termination.
However, a single email between the direct level supervisor and his manager changed everything. The email was an early directive from the manager to the supervisor instructing the supervisor to “go through the process,” “do what HR said to do,” “and then fire [the employee].” This email supported the employee’s claim that the disciplinary process was a sham and bolstered the employee’s claim of pretext and bias.
So how do we document effectively?
Don’t only create the typical list of documentation do’s and don’ts. Beyond this is a larger issue – the personal benefits of writing things down. Commemorating Your Actions (“CYA”) provides the following benefits to all of us, so remember these benefits as you document:
- Time to pause and reflect. What do I really know about this situation? What more do I need to know? Where can I go for help?
- An opportunity to learn and grow. Given what I knew at that the time, this is how I handled the situation; what could I do differently if this were to come up again?
- A chance to tell your side of the story. What positive contributions did I make to help address this situation? What actions did I take? Who did I contact? What are my next steps based on what I know right now?
- Demonstration of your diligence, trustworthiness, sound judgment and credibility. Just as for other parts of my responsibilities, I routinely keep notes and reports in these type of situations.
- Confidence and accuracy.I don’t want to second-guess myself. Let me refer to my notes so that I can refresh my recollection and provide you with information that we can all confidently rely on.