HR says: ‘Document, document, document!’ but managers must also avoid 3 legal pitfalls

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE         

February 3, 2012  

Contact: Elizabeth Hall, Editor 
(800) 543-2055  (703) 905-8000
editor@BusinessManagementDaily.com

HR says: ‘Document, document, document!’ — but managers must also avoid 3 legal pitfalls
 
Falls Church, Va. — Most managers have probably heard the Human Resources Managers’ mantra:  “Document, document, document.”  But that doesn’t mean they have been taught how to keep records of important hiring and disciplinary conversations. 

“If you’re ever hauled into court to testify in a lawsuit against your organization, what you say, and how you say it, can sink your defense—or help you win,” says Patrick DiDomenico, Editorial Director at Business Management Daily and the founding editor of The HR Specialist. “And more than your credibility may be on trial; you could even be held personally liable for some discriminatory acts.” In a dispute, the quality of the documents goes to the heart of an employer’s credibility. Anything less than Grade A record-keeping can make those documents Exhibit A in court.

Effective HR managers know that HOW to document is even more important than the “document, document, document” mantra. 

“Sloppy documents—particularly emails—can help an employee’s lawyer show discriminatory intent,” says Allison West, a former employment law litigator, “Documentation should be prepared for a fact-finder’s eyes (e.g., judge, jury, EEOC or other government agency).” West cites 3 common document pitfalls that sink employers:

  1. Little or no evidence to support decisions to discipline or terminate
  2. Ambiguous or unclear evidence that the employee was given appropriate notice of issues
  3. Documents that contain personal attacks and subjective comments

“Many people don’t know that inadequate documentation can create as much liability as having no documentation at all.” (See pitfall # 3.)  West warns that, “A number of key words and phrases should never be used in documents unless they are properly (and fairly) backed up with supporting details.”  Among the words she advises managers to be careful about using in performance reviews:  “shortcomings,” “failure” and “inadequacy.”  Also, she warns managers to be cautious about writing overly glowing appraisals that ignore or downplay key employee weaknesses. “They can make it difficult to argue that poor performance in a critical area led to discipline or a termination.”

West explains, “Juries are predisposed to sympathize with employees who have lost their jobs and self-esteem. An organization that fires without first trying to improve performance will appear insensitive and mean-spirited … For that reason alone, it’s worth counseling an employee before firing him or her—and documenting verbal coaching efforts correctly.  And it is the job of all managers to make sure that their documentations are legal, clear, objective, complete, consistent and fair.”  

Thus, it pays to train and educate all managers in employment law. West has identified 7 crucial steps—explained in plain language—that must be followed to create “bulletproof documentation.”  She outlines those steps in a new resource available from Business Management Daily, Creating Bulletproof Documentation: 7 Steps for HR & Managers.  The 75-minute training podcast is available via MP3 download for $197 and includes a pdf of 56 slides designed for both HR pros and to be shared with front-line managers (CD version is $203).  Order information here.

Additional BMD resources offering advice for legally safe methods of hiring and firing include print publications Fire at Will and Hire at Will. These two publications, sold together, include advice on the use of written employment tests for honesty, personality, aptitude and productivity. Readers will learn which tests work best, which tests are legal and which tests employers should absolutely avoid. Specific advice includes one “magic” statement employers should include on all job applications to retain the right to legally fire at will.  Price: $44.90 (includes pdf downloads of both publications). Mailed price is $50.90. 


About Business Management Daily
The HR Specialist and other employment law related resources are published by Business Management Daily, a division of Capitol Information Group, Inc.—a provider of sound news and advice since 1937. Business Management Daily gives business professionals the news, skills and strategies they need to grow their business, avoid legal pitfalls and advance their careers. Visit www.BusinessManagementDaily.com to see the full list of webinars, online training resources, subscription newsletters, free reports, and email updates.  

Business Management Daily, a division of Capitol Information Group, Inc., is located at: 7600A Leesburg Pike, West Bldg - Suite 300, Falls Church, Va. 22043-2004; (703) 905-8000.

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