Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More On Documentation

In my last post, I discussed the necessity of documenting many aspects of an individual's employment. A number of comments were made to me that generating such documentation would be an administrative nightmare, and that there was insufficient time in the workday to do so. The following may help to illustrate the importance of documentation for all of the naysayers out there.

For several years, a small company employed a female, minority worker who was in her mid-40's. Approximately two years ago, the employee began arriving late for work, was absent from work without permission on several occasions, and became increasingly insubordinate. The employee's supervisor spoke to her numerous times, and the employee always promised to correct her behavior; those discussions were never documented by the supervisor. Typically, the employee's conduct improved for a couple of weeks after such a conversation, but then reverted to its old ways. Recently, the company decided that it had had enough; it fired the employee and replaced her with a much younger, white male.

The former employee then threatened to take legal action based on age, race and sex discrimination. Although the company contended that the firing was appropriate in view of the misconduct, its problem was its failure to generate or maintain any documentation of the employee's unacceptable behavior and numerous discussions with her supervisor. Had such documentation existed, it could have provided a fairly strong basis to justify the discharge as being "for cause." Even though New York is an employment-at-will State, it is generally a good idea to have some bona fide justification for the termination of someone's employment even if it's not required technically as a matter of law.

The company settled the matter eventually for a substantial sum. I can't help but think that the cost of the settlement far exceeded the minimal cost of utilizing appropriate documentation with respect to that problem employee. Given the poor economic reality of current times, employers may wish to re-think their reluctance to document worker misconduct.

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