HR Documentation: What and When?


Are you dealing with an employee who is not meeting performance standards? When an HR situation is evaluated and a decision is made, there is often a lack of written documentation. Why does this happens? Is there so much to do that we forget to document issues? Do we think earlier events leading up to the situation are just not significant enough to document them?

Let’s look at standards for when documentation is needed. These standards do not have to be complicated, however be aware of potential perceptions of discrimination in treatment of employees, so consult with your experts—human resource consultants, attorney, etc.

What to Document
Behavior: Attitude toward others; standard of conduct; what is written or spoken

Having written policies regarding unacceptable behavior in the workplace is a great start to make it easier to know when it is time to discuss and document.  Make sure these policies are given to employees and require employees to sign off for receipt and acknowledgement that these policies were introduced and reviewed.

Results: What results can “raise the red flag,” or what results are missing?

A job description should include certain levels and types of results you expect a person in this position to generate or contribute to.

Process: What processes and procedures are not being followed?

We could assume that all processes and procedures are important to follow, but perhaps we can identify certain ones (or steps within) that absolutely need to be followed. Any change or deviation should have an explanation or would be the start of a conversation with the employee to find out what happened. 

When to Document
There are always exceptions, but whenever you have to talk about behavior, results or performance with an employee—good or bad—think about documenting the event/conversation. It can often be done in an informal format. 

If it is good news, why not share it with the team? Is it possible to print out something related to the good event and write a note about the employee’s contribution?

If it is bad news, can you print out the email, notification, etc. that identifies the issue(s) and place it in a locked, secure location (not in the employee personnel file) so that you can review it later? Again, a quick note on the circumstances and how the employee was involved should be written for future reference.

Have a consistent, formal process and form whenever you talk with an employee about what has happened and what needs to change or stop.

Starting with small steps could make the job of documentation easier. I also think it would make it easier and quicker to acknowledge good employees as well.


Mary Dunlap, CFP®
Mary Dunlap Consulting
, Pa.

This is just an overview.  This article is for informative purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Consult your experts, such as human resource consultant or attorney, to be aware of federal, local and state regulations and exceptions.

2 thoughts on “HR Documentation: What and When?

  1. Great post, Mary. HR practices are such a significant source of opportunity and risk for advisors.

  2. Thank you Brian for the comment — I appreciate it. A small step to incorporate established communications with team members (employees) can make a huge difference! It’s easier to commend or coach an employee.

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