By: Amy Dozier on September 23rd, 2014

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Have a Problem Employee? How to Document Performance Issues

Employee Relations

Whether you are a manager or an HR professional, the following conversation probably sounds familiar to you:

Manager: “I need to terminate this employee today!  The performance issues are becoming a distraction for the rest of the team.”

HR: “I didn't know you were having issues with that employee.  Are any of the performance issues documented?”

Regardless of how that question was answered, it is important to understand why your HR representative wants documentation and how to best document performance issues.

Why it's Important to Document Performance Issues

  1. Protects the company: Documenting the facts and the communication that you have had with the employee on their performance will help protect the company should the employee ever file a claim or sue the organization. For example, if the employee claims discrimination after a termination, you will have documentation that lays out the facts and shows that there were legitimate performance issues that were addressed with the employee.
  1. The right thing to do for the employee: Communicating that an employee is not meeting expectations and documenting the conversations to show the seriousness of the issue is only fair to the employee. Tolerating bad performance until it becomes a distraction for the rest of the team and you want to fire the employee immediately is not fair to that individual.  If the employee doesn't know there is a problem, he/she cannot address it.  Showing that you communicated the issues with the employee will show you made a good faith effort to help the employee improve, which will help protect the company in the event of a law suit.
  1. Provides future managers with a record if you leave the organization: If you leave the organization for any reason, documentation will prevent the new manager from having to start from scratch. If the new manager experiences the same performance issues, he/she will have a record of what discussions you had with the employee and will be one step closer to correcting the problem.  Depending on why you left that position, your priority may not be helping the new manager and the old company, but regardless wouldn't you want the same courtesy if you were taking over a new team?

Best Practices when Documenting Performance Issues

  1. Describe the circumstances that made the action necessary.
    • Include specific examples, dates, times, and impact to the team, company, and client.
  2. Point out the specific policy that has been violated.
    • Include the policy number and quote the policy, if appropriate.
  3. Reiterate any previous performance issues that have been addressed.
    • Include the date of the previous discussion and the name of the person who communicated the issue with the employee.
  4. Describe the expected standard of performance or desired behavioral change.
    • Be specific.  Some items may seem intuitive, but your definition of “professional” may be very different than the employee’s definition of “professional”.
  5. Designate intermediate evaluation sessions.
  6. Indicate support for the employee and willingness to assist.
    • Provide your contact information and offer to be available should the employee have questions or need guidance to make sure he/she meets those expectations.
  7. Supervisor’s signature.
  8. Employee’s comments.
    • (If the employee chooses to do so.)
  9. Employee’s signature.
    • The signature confirms that employee was aware of the concerns.
    • If employee refuses to sign the document, a witness should sign and indicate the employee’s refusal to sign.

Thorough documentation will ensure the employee understands the problem and how to address it and provides the company with evidence that you gave the employee a real opportunity to correct the issue. 

The next time your HR representative asks you, “Is it documented?” I hope you can say, “Yes!  It’s in the personnel file.”

I’ll leave you with one final thought:  Document, document, document!