How many times have you heard, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen”?
We all know that documentation is important. It’s a central part of a workplace's activities, not only for legal matters, audits or disputes, but also for rules and regulations. HR departments are notoriously known as paper pushers. But in the workplace, paper is really important, or at least what’s on the paper is.
The most obvious benefit of proper documentation is the ability to prove due diligence for an employer. It’s the proof of the what, when and how you carry out activities. By documenting even the smallest matters, you will have reliable resources to turn to if you need them.
In every workplace there has been an incident, whether it be performance, safety or operational, and at the moment it didn’t seem like it was a big deal. Perhaps it was even resolved quickly. There is a tendency to move on and be thankful there was resolution without taking the time to properly document the incident which would include all of the details from start to finish. This creates an issue for workplaces who are later asked to provide information on past incidents. How good is your memory?
Even if you are on board with documenting matters in the workplace, are you doing it well? There is no doubt that jotting a few vague notes is documentation, but it’s not effective documentation. For documentation to be credible, the records have to be detailed, accurate and factual. Be sure to include dates and times and not estimations. Keep your records simple and to the point, but not vague. Do not exaggerate or make assumptions and avoid personal opinions, which can create unnecessary commentary in the notes.
When your notes include details about people, be sure to include who and when. Use full names and document their role in the matter. If there are a lot of people being referenced, create a legend to help the reader keep everyone straight. If your notes are regarding an action you took with an employee such as discipline or termination, refer to any policies that apply to back up your actions.
Keep in mind, any documentation you have may become admissible in court. This should not intimidate you or prevent you from making your notes, you just have to be sure they are clear and can be understood by someone other than you.
The outcome of a legal matter can hinge on whether or not an employer had proper documentation and records to defend their position. You may feel that making notes and keeping thorough documentation is a waste of time. It’s often proper documentation that keeps a business running systematically and ethically can save you a lot of time and money if there is ever a claim against you.
When in doubt, write it out!