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Consistent Documentation: The Importance Of Having A Safety Net

Being a leader in an organization is often like being a tightrope artist.

How so?

Well, as business owners and HR professionals we often walk the thin line between taking care of associates and looking out for the company’s best interests.

It can be quite the hazardous job. (Maybe not as risky as walking across the Grand Canyon with no safety net. See Nik Wallenda’s Skywire.)

As a leader in your company, you want to interact and support the associates all the while following the rules.

But things can get pretty wobbly (in keeping with the tightrope theme) when an employee is caught red-handed breaking the rules. What makes matters even worse is when everyone has known the employee breaks the rules; they have just never confronted him/her.

Not good.

Let’s say for example an employee (who is known for never being on time) comes in late every day for a week with no excuse.

What do you do? Have you documented all the times the employee was late? Have you talked to this employee before about why he/she comes in late? Can you fire the employee on the spot?

The answer depends on your policies. If the employee is found guilty of breaking a certain policy (such as an attendance policy) then they can be terminated as long as that is stated in your policies and you have documented proof that the policy was violated.

The Importance of Consistent Documentation (or Your Safety Net)

The big issue in a situation like this is that the employee had been breaking the rules for a while and nobody had done anything about it.

It becomes a thousand times more difficult to blame an employee for breaking a policy when there is no documented proof or even record of a previous conservation about the topic.

It’s all about consistency. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. It’s all about consistency.

You must be consistent about enforcing your polices and your documentation. Or you’ll have no safety net. (And for the record, you should not aspire to run your business like Nik Wallenda).

For example, you cannot fire Jane for being late a certain number of times if Bob has been late just as many times and he hasn’t ever been reprimanded. You must enforce your policies consistently for all applicable parties.

Your company needs clear policies and processes for employee correction. This ensures that employees are aware of the rules and are corrected if the rules are broken.

This may seem like a no brainer, but we’ve seen many companies where this is an issue. And let us tell you, something as “simple” as a policy and procedure manual can save your company thousands of dollars.

Let’s say an employer wants to terminate a person for a laundry list of problems. Here’s the kicker, just like in our first example, they’ve never given the employee the opportunity to address them. Suddenly, the employer is worried about discrimination claims and other headaches.

Now see why we’re so adamant about consistent documentation. You want to be pro-active in order to save your company from one pounding HR headache.

So how to you make sure you have a sturdy safety net? Let us count the ways.

1. Review Your Policies and Update Accordingly.

You need comprehensive personnel policies that clearly outline rules and expectations. When was the last time you really looked at these? Could you be at risk and not even know it?

2. Conduct Annual or Semi-Annual Performance Review.

Performance Reviews are instrumental for allowing employers to address (AND DOCUMENT) any discipline or performance issues as well as areas that need improvement. (If you’d like to read our blog about how to conduct painless end of the year reviews, click here.)

 3. Document. Document. Document!

Employers should document emails, conversations, instances of policy violations, and disciplinary issues and keep this documentation in the employee file. As we’ve stated in our other blogs, the EEOC and Department of Labor have stepped up their numbers to crack down on businesses that are misbehaving. Don’t let that happen to you. Be prepared if a DOL official comes knocking on your door. Make sure you know the EEOC and Department of Labor Investigation Process and what they are looking for.

By documenting everything that happens—good and bad—you are more likely to make it safely across the Grand Canyon on your tightrope.

Is Your HR Effective? Are You Staying Compliant? Click here to take our free online HR Compliance Review.

Just remember, if you need help with any HR issues, let Integrity HR be your safety net. We promise we won’t let you fall. Click here to contact us.

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about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.