When do you typically think about documenting employee performance? If you are like many managers, documentation isn’t a priority until an employee has done something termination worthy and risk management becomes a concern. Documentation may seem tedious and unnecessary, but the time spent documenting conversations with employees will pay off when you are able to successfully fight unemployment claims and win lawsuits. Proper documentation can help you to support your management decisions and is especially useful when terminating employment. After all, failure to document begs the question: if there’s no documentation, did it really happen?

Use the following tips to ensure that your bases are covered in the event that your actions as a manager come into question.


Put it in writing: Unfortunately, verbal communication alone won’t hold up should a disgruntled ex-employee decide to take you to court to dispute their termination. From their start date to their last day with your company, complete written documentation every time that you have to speak with them regarding company policy and procedure violations, conflicts or confrontations with fellow staff or clients, or issues with performance. The manner in which you document these conversations and incidents will depend largely on your company’s protocol. Your company may have a computer program in place that tracks your reports, or you may be required to fill out a physical form. In addition to using these methods of documentation, it is important to save emails and texts between yourself and employees. Make sure that your employees are aware of any reports that you fill out, and have them sign them as proof of acknowledgement.

Don’t sugar coat: Be honest and direct with your employees. The last thing you need is a lawsuit from a mediocre ex-employee who had been struggling for a year, and who left feeling misled because you fired them despite only having positive things to say on his or her annual review. While giving positive feedback can build confidence, if not honest, it can be confusing to employees and anyone reviewing employee records later on. In addition to causing confusion and a false sense of accomplishment for the employee, sugar coating feedback limits an employee’s ability to improve before termination is considered.

Be consistent: The key to documentation is consistency across the board. If you go out of your way to document an incident with an employee who is struggling, you should also go out of your way to document an incident with an employee who is succeeding. Documenting is ineffective if you play favorites and you don’t hold all employees to the same standards. In addition, a lack of consistency puts you at risk of being accused of the “isms”: racism, sexism, ageism, etc. Avoid claims of discrimination by putting in the extra effort to remain consistent in your documentation habits and hold all employees to the same standards.

Follow through: Once you have put an issue with an employee in writing, don’t just sit back and wait until the next time you will need to speak with them regarding their performance. Follow through by assisting your employee in creating a plan for success and set a time to communicate progress (or lack thereof). Document these conversations as well to show that the employee was given every chance to succeed before termination was considered.


The importance of proper documentation should not be underestimated. The time that you spend now on careful documentation can save your company money and save you a lawsuit in the future.