Documenting Disciplinary Actions
After you've investigated
the situations and dealt
with the employee, you need to document the entire process starting with the
complaint or incident and ending with the final resolution or action taken.
Whether you are coaching
an employee for a performance problem or disciplining an employee for improper
conduct, you must document your reasons for discipline, any fact-finding that
you do, and the actions that you take.
There are a few compelling reasons for keeping good documentation:
- Documentation is critical when you need to substantiate your actions to
others. In the event that a disciplinary action is questioned, documentation
will be the key to supporting that action.
- Documentation will protect the business in the event that you or someone
else is no longer available to testify.
- Memory alone will not be substantial enough to support a decision when
hearings and wrongful
termination suits arise.
- Documentation will help to support your position that you did or did not
- Documentation provides verification that employees heard and understood
the information presented.
- Sometimes, what you remember as a formal warning may be viewed by the
employee as a friendly reminder. Documentation can show whether there were
any mitigating circumstances and whether you followed your business's
Here are two common methods that you can use to document disciplinary
Summaries. Summaries are good for instances where behavior is being
tracked over an extended period of time. If you're using summaries to document
discipline, be sure to include specific examples and information in your
summaries to illustrate the problem.
Include the following information:
- Provide specific background information - of employee's name, job title,
date of hire, etc.
- The date on which the disciplinary document is created.
- Describe the offense and why it is an offense. Include the names of any
witnesses, when and where the offense occurred, and any other critical
details. Attach duplicates of relevant documents such as time sheets or
- Describe any disciplinary action that was taken or will be taken as a
result of the offense.
- Describe and recap any prior oral conversations or disciplinary actions
that have bearing on the incident being documented.
- Describe the behavior expected from the employee.
- Provide for and include the employee's version of the events.
- If the employee has any appeal rights, specify the procedure to exercise
- Clearly specify the future action to occur if the offensive behavior does
- Sign the form and give the employee an opportunity to sign the document.
Note if the employee refuses but was given the opportunity.
- Have a space to print (or type) your name and the employee's name.
If the situation is more of a coaching situation than discipline for improper
conduct, balance the document by reflecting the positive aspects of an
employee's performance as well as performance problems. But don't be afraid to
state or document the problems.
Fill-in forms. You may be able to save time by using a fill-in form.
These are better for the one-time incident. They also help to standardize your
documentation to the greatest extent possible. They can help to ensure that all
disciplinary actions are analyzed, carried out, and documented consistently.
You may choose to combine these methods, depending on your needs.
Other documentation. You can also consider having witnesses (if
applicable) provide you with a written statement. Witnesses can be fellow
workers, customers, or bystanders. Getting as much information from as many
different perspectives as possible can help you make the best decision about
disciplinary action. Documenting that information can help you defend that
Get the employee's signature. Documentation should allow for employee
comments and signature. That way:
- If the employee makes comments about changing or rectifying the behavior,
you have documentation that the employee understood and accepted the
- If the employee disagrees with the action, you have documentation that you
participated in this process with the employee. Allow the employee to record
his or her disagreement on the form, but also try to work with the employee
to come to an understanding. Document that process as well.
- If the employee refuses to sign the document, you at least have proof that
the employee refused to participate in the process should the employee later
challenge your actions. Write a notation on the document that the employee
refused to sign.