Benefits and Compensation

9 Things You MUST NOT Include in Your Documentation

Do not include the following in your documentation, says Wobst:

  • Personal opinions.
  • Rumors or speculation about the employee’s personal life.
  • Theories about why the employee behaves a certain way. (Don’t practice psychiatry without a license.) For example, don’t call an employee “crazy.” Instead, document behaviors.
  • Legal conclusions. (Don’t practice law without a license.) For example, instead of saying, “Your conduct was sexual harassment,” consider saying “We have concluded that you violated our sexual harassment policy” (which doesn’t necessarily mean that the law has been violated) or “Your massaging Jane’s shoulders on two occasions was inappropriate and must not be repeated.” This makes for a better defense should the complainant sue for sexual harassment.
  • Information about the employee’s family, ethnic background, beliefs, or medical history.
  • Your opinions about the employee’s career prospects.
  • Unsubstantiated accusations.
  • Promises or threats.
  • “Always” or “never.” For example, “Mike is always late.”

Be Accurate

The simplest error can call into question the validity of an entire report. Double-checking and reviewing are critical to eliminating documentation errors and ensuring accuracy. When necessary, any errors that are made should be crossed out with a single strikeout line and the correct information added. The person making the change should initial and date the correction. (This does not apply to electronic documentation, Wobst says.)

Don’t spell-check and think that’s all the review you need, warns Wobst. He had a document responding to an employee’s claim that said, “The employee’s claim is viable.” Only in the last proofing did someone realize that the phrase should have been “The employee’s claim is NOT viable.”

Be Objective

All documentation should provide only the facts of what was observed and done; personal opinion should not be included. The drafter’s bias or perspective may confuse the accuracy of the documentation.


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Be Readable

Correct grammar and spelling add to the clarity and accuracy of the documentation. Again, proofread! Errors in grammar and spelling are not only embarrassing. They can actually change the meaning of the words and impact of what is being described. If the document is handwritten, it must be legible so that information can be easily and accurately communicated to others who may need it to rely on. Do not use abbreviations that are not universally understood terms.

If an employer is ever faced with litigation involving an action that it took—or failed to take—the written account of the incident will carry much weight.

Written documentation may have a much greater effect in a subsequent investigation or court action than spoken testimony since the lawsuit may not come to trial for several months or even years after the critical incident occurs. By then important details about what happened may be forgotten. Moreover, if witnesses are cross-examined by an attorney representing the employee, their vague recollections will be easier to pull apart in the absence of supporting documentation.


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In many cases, the critical document is the written performance appraisal. Of course, most managers look forward to conducting annual performance reviews about as much as they anticipate a trip to the dentist. Unfortunately, most employees aren’t sold on the concept either. In fact, 55 percent of employees don’t think performance reviews are the least bit accurate. But that doesn’t mean you can avoid them.

You do need a solid strategy for feedback that is mutually beneficial to both you and your employees, says Wobst. That is still going to be the key to talent retention, a positive work environment, and the overall growth and productivity of your organization, especially when you’re managing employees from multiple generations.

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