Personnel Problems: Document, Document, Document!

In the October 2015 issue of School Nutrition, writer Penny McLaren in “Turn Cloudy Coworkers into Sunny Staffers” examines the issue of problem personnel. As much as you, as a manager or director, might love the idea of walking into the kitchen and firing that one difficult employee, doing so might create an HR nightmare. Therefore, in this day and age, it’s best to document the employee’s problem behavior before you make any personnel decisions that could come back to haunt you. 

Why Does Documentation Matter?

Creating a strong paper trail of an employee’s poor performance and subsequent discipline can go a long way in establishing that an employee’s firing wasn’t related to their race, sex, age, religion, disability or national origin, all protected by discrimination laws. Make sure to date and sign every piece of documentation.

What Constitutes Documentation?

Employee performance evaluations that are conducted annually or semi-annually are the first step in a paper trail. In addition to regularly scheduled evaluations, a manager or director can do a unscheduled review, particularly if you’ve been noticing previously unseen problems or if an employee’s duties change. Documentation also includes warning letters, written reprimands and emails. Don’t forget to document verbal warnings by taking a moment to put it in writing and inserting it in the employee’s record.

What to Avoid

Don’t use legal terms in your documentations, just include the facts. Avoid making personal observation or judgments. Be specific – don’t document vague statements such as, “I discuss Mary’s behavior with her.” That doesn’t say whether the behavior was positive or negative. Avoid using clichéd, vague phrases such as “She doesn’t fit in here” or “He is not a team player.” They might be innocuous to you, but could be viewed as discrimination. 

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