How To Document Employee Performance Problems

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Many times when managers come to HR professionals and say they want to terminate an employee, HR asks if they have any documentation about the issue.  That is typically when management rolls their eyes and grumbles something under their breath about HR being difficult and always saying “no”.

The question about documentation isn’t HR’s way of “controlling” management or preventing the manager from correcting the employee, it is about keeping the company safe.  The goal of any disciplinary process is to help employee succeed.  If needed, documenting employee conversations proves the company worked with the employee on correcting their behavior prior to firing them.  It shows the company wanted the employee to succeed.  It shows that management identified a problem, made the employee aware of the problem, outlined what needed to be done to correct it and then gave the employee ample opportunity to turn it around.  Documentation proves the company’s first response to poor employee performance wasn’t to fire them, but to help them.

What should you put in your documentation?  The template for solid performance documentation is relatively simple.  It includes a standard memo heading with the date, the name and title of the employee, the name and title of the manager, and the subject of the memo.  I always put “Job Performance” as the subject in a disciplinary memo as that encompasses all areas of job performance, not just attendance or productivity or quality, etc.  The memo should contain a reference to the previous conversations that have been held with the employee about this topic.  It should outline the expectations and how the employee’s behavior has not met those expectations.  Timelines should be included outlining when the employee should stop the behavior, complete additional training, or meet the deadline.  Any quantitative information should be included as well, for example, a quality percentage or production goal number.  A best practice is to include space for the employee to write comments.  It allows the employees to document their thoughts about the content of the disciplinary memo for the record.  In addition, I have found that while some employees don’t want to sign the disciplinary document, they will write comments and sign those. Finally, the memo must include signature lines and dates for both the employee and the manager.  Even if the employee refuses to sign the memo, they need to understand their refusal to sign has no bearing on their responsibility to meet the expectations and timelines listed in the memo.  The signature on the memo is an acknowledgment they have read and they understand what it says, not that they agree with it.  Once the memo is administered to the employee and signed, a copy must be given to the employee and an original should be put into the employee’s personnel file.