One of the most serious mistakes employers make is the failure to document staff issues in real-time. You may have built a great team for your restaurant, retail boutique or marketing firm, but the simple truth is that is you employ people in California, you have a high likelihood of facing a third party challenge at some point. If you’re confronted with a regulatory or legal challenge, you’ll need to have documentation available to defend your management decisions.
Acknowledgement of company practices, document it. Training session, document it. Incident on shift, document it. Counseling session or positive feedback, document it. Don’t wait until you have to respond to a regulatory inquiry or formal complaint to document these items. In fact, if you wait until you’re challenged, it’s probably too late. A real-time record of the situation is far more compelling than something you’ve cobbled together months after the fact. So how to do it right? Keep reading.
Do It Real-Time
Yeah, we know. It’s a pain to document employee issues. But you must do it and be timely about it. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to piece together evidence of training you’ve given or counseling sessions you’ve conducted months after the fact under the pressure of a legal challenge. At best, you’ll struggle to get the facts accurate. At worst, it will seem like you’re fabricating evidence to support your actions. Neither of those is good.
Establish a habit for yourself and your management team to document employee HR issues at or around the time of occurrence. A dispute with a customer, conflict with a co-worker, time/attendance violation, positive feedback, whatever…document the relevant facts and circumstances as they occur. Do not wait until you’re challenged by a third party. Do it now.
Stick To The Facts
When documenting an issue, there’s no need to build a thick dossier for each issue or incident. A simple summary including the parties involved (who), issue, incident, violation (what), location of the occurrence (where) and time/date of occurrence (when) is fine. If possible, craft a timeline of the events and circumstances. It’s amazing how much more clarity and confidence you’ll have when you arrange events in chronological order.
Reference other documents — email, report, acknowledgements, counseling form, etc. — and, if possible, photos or videos. Avoid generalizations (“She always…”) and hyperbole (“He’s a nightmare…”) and check your work to make sure your summary is consistent with the supporting files. Even the most conscientious manager may have trouble remembering the facts. Check your work!
Add Supporting Files
Judges and arbitrators are people, and people responded to visual support. Where possible, add a photo of a meeting or video of an incident. It’s unfortunate, but disgruntled employees will lie (often with the support of their lawyer) and a photo of your counseling session helps debunk the “They never told me” claim. Resist the temptation to assume that your team would never turn to the dark side — it can and does happen. Better to have the documentation and not need it, than need it and not have it.
As a side note, consider installing cameras in those areas you have significant activity — behind the bar, in the inventory room, on the kitchen line, break and common areas. You’ll be surprised how many times the footage shows a different view of a dispute or harassment claim than was presented to you. Even well-intentioned employees have trouble recollecting events with accuracy; camera footage will help restore clarity to your timeline of events. Bonus: high definition cameras are inexpensive, easy to install and can be accessed remotely. You can monitor activity from your smartphone and have oversight of your business even when you’re offsite.
Be consistent with your documentation habits. If you’re tracking disputes with customers, make sure you’re doing so for all employees and recording the same information. Insist that managers record incidents and issues as they happen and trust that the data will show that the problem employees are, in fact, problematic. Like anything, documentation gets easier with practice and self-criticism. Review your managers’ (or your own) documentation habits to maintain the consistency and quality that you would in your underlying product and service.
It’s an inconvenient truth that if you have employees in California, at some point you’ll have a third party challenge to a management decision. It could be EDD asking to confirm the reason you termed a troublesome employee or something more disturbing like a discrimination claim or lawsuit. If you’ve built and maintained the discipline to document issues and incidents as they occurred, you’ll be in far better shape to defend your management decisions and actions against those third party claims. Software tools like JobStats allow managers to document employee incidents and issues as they occur and develop a documentation mindset. Again, it’s better to have the documentation and not need it than need the documentation and not have it.
About the author
Kyle Kirkland is President of Brick HR, Inc., the developer of JobStatsdocumentation software. As owner, President and General Manager of Club One Casino in Fresno, California, Mr. Kirkland has extensive experience managing employees in gaming, food and beverage, facilities, security, administration and managerial positions. He has direct experience in dealing with the challenges California employers face and how to mitigate the related risk. Mr. Kirkland is also the president of the California Gaming Association, a non-profit trade association which represents California cardrooms.
Prior to joining the gaming industry, Mr. Kirkland served as the chairman of Steinway Musical Instruments, the world-renowned musical instrument manufacturer, a position he held for 17 years. Earlier in his career, Mr. Kirkland worked at Bain & Company, an international management consulting firm and Drexel Burnham Lambert, an investment bank specializing in high yield securities. Mr. Kirkland has served on the boards of several public and private companies and non-profit organizations.
Mr. Kirkland holds an A.B. degree from Harvard College magna cum laude in Economics and an MBA degree from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.