7 tips for documenting employee discipline

DiscipliningTrain supervisors to be careful when writing up employees for disciplinary reasons. That’s because how they document discipline issues can cause problems if an employee files a lawsuit. To protect against legal liability, teach bosses to follow these guidelines when documenting employee discipline:

1. Be consistent. Don’t write up one person for a behavior that you ignore in other employees. When in doubt, check to see how similar problems have been documented in the past.

2. Be specific. Example of poor documentation: “Employee was late three times in the past month.” Better: “Employee was 30 minutes late on Feb. 5; reason given: traffic. Employee was 45 minutes late on Feb. 9; reason given: overslept. Employee was an hour late on Feb. 23; reason given: car problems.”

3. Write in a clear, factual manner. Note the policy or procedure that the employee has violated. Date the document, including the year.

4. Avoid emotional content, including personal impressions (“I think …”), labels (“He’s a whiner …”), adjectives (“very unproductive …”) and conclusions about the reasons for the employee’s behavior. (“It’s probably because of her divorce.”)

5. State the consequences if the behavior continues. Example: “If the employee is tardy again this month, he will be fired.”

6. Ask the employee to sign and date the document if it’s going into his or her personnel file. If the employee refuses to sign, note that on the document.

7. Give employees an opportunity to respond in writing and include the response in their files.

What should bosses document?

  • Excessive tardiness, unexcused absences
  • Incompetent job performance
  • Violations of policies, safety rules
  • Physical violence, verbal threats
  • Complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination
  • On-the-job substance abuse.

Document positive performance, too. A file containing nothing but negative comments may look like a setup.

What should you document?

  • Excessive tardiness, unexcused absences.
  • Incompetent job performance. Cite attempts you make to help the employee improve.
  • Failure to comply with policy or with established safety procedures.
  • Physical violence, verbal threats.
  • Complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination. Include details of your follow-up investigation.
  • Proven instances of on-the-job drunkenness or drug use.
  • Positive performance. (Ironically, failing to document a positive performance can strengthen an employee’s claims of discrimination. A file of all-bad comments may look like a setup.)