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What’s all the Fuss? It’s only Paper.

Joan, a 42-year old retail clerk at a local department store had been there for nine years. During the time she was employed she consistently received favorable annual performance reviews noting that she was efficient, on time, and displayed good customer service skills. In recent months, Joan had a couple of verbal confrontations with her immediate supervisor. The supervisor told Joan that she needed to listen to her instructions and to discuss her problems rather than getting mad right way. As a result of these confrontations, Joan was fired. Joan sued for age discrimination. Because all of Joan’s performance reviews showed her to be a good employee and her supervisor neglected to document Joan’s failure to follow her instructions as well as her inappropriate behavior, Joan won the lawsuit.

Although everyone has heard the mantra – Document, document, document…very few understand the critical importance this simple act has on the survival of a company. When I hear stories like the one about Joan, my heart breaks for those who now have to deal with the aftermath and the staggering costs this avoidable error leaves in its wake. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Supervisors need to learn that it’s not about whether they did something right or wrong, instead it’s about whether you can prove that you brought the problem to the employee’s attention and gave them an opportunity to correct it. The only way to prove this is through honest and timely documentation.

The Westberry Group, Carol Westberry

But let’s face it; just writing something down is not enough. As a matter of fact, poorly written or inaccurate statements can have an extremely negative impact. That’s why it is essential that all counseling or coaching documentation be a factual representation of the situation without emotional embellishments or opinions.

In addition, when writing your documentation you must consider who might eventually read it. To be on the safe side you should assume that the audience could end up being not only the employee, but also the employee’s lawyer, administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, judges, and juries in the event of a lawsuit or dispute. Because your documentation must pass the test of time it needs to be easily understood and communicate the business-based reason for an employer’s decision

And last but not least…please be cautious when writing your documentation that you don’t jump to “legal conclusions.” Avoid statements like “You discriminated against your co-worker.” Instead, stick to facts and simply statement that the employee’s actions were unacceptable and violated your company’s discrimination policy.

So if you struggle with what to write, when to write it, and how to write it…you’re not alone. Check out our Coaching & Counseling Resources online at

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