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8 Steps to High-Value Employee Performance Documentation

By Jenny Barnes on Apr 27, 2023
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Documenting employee performance issues has important business purposes. It: 

  • Promotes fair and consistent treatment of all employees. 
  • Ensures future managers have access to a team member’s on-the-job history. 
  • Helps employers identify where employees may be falling short of expectations. 
  • Helps employees understand the impact of their performance on the business and clarifies changes they need to make. 
  • Confirms the agreed-upon action steps the employee needs to take to close the performance gap.

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If performance issues continue after ongoing intervention, documentation can help establish the consequences of not bringing performance up to standard. It also can demonstrate the rationale for outcomes, which could include a reduction in pay, a demotion, or other disciplinary action, including termination. 

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Benefits of Employee Performance Documentation

For any of those actions, performance documentation helps protect employers if an employee files a discrimination claim or wrongful termination lawsuit. The performance record demonstrates a good-faith effort to help the employee improve and verifies that disciplinary or termination decisions were based on legitimate performance- or behavior-related reasons. 

Similarly, employers can refer to previous documentation of an employee’s performance to inform and justify decisions about promotions, pay raises and other actions with objective criteria rather than subjective judgments. Documenting poor performance or bad behavior helps ensure everyone is held to the same standards, which builds trust and confidence among employees, and, ultimately, a more equitable workplace. 

Employee performance records also are a key tool for future supervisors, who need to know as much as possible as quickly as possible about their new teams. Documentation of any past employee issues can ease management transitions, helping new managers get up to speed quickly on an employee’s performance background. 

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Employee Performance Documentation Best Practices

To ensure that employee documentation is effective and legally defensible, employers should follow these eight best practices: 

1. Be clear

Avoid vague language like “bad attitude” or “not a good fit” that could be interpreted as discriminatory or give the employee a basis for a legal claim that the company violated federally protected rights. Describe the employee’s conduct without using language that could be construed as opinion. 

2. Stick to the facts

Rely on email messages, information relayed by the employee’s direct supervisor or other verifiable evidence that demonstrates the poor performance or inappropriate behavior. Focus on describing the employee’s actions and the circumstances that made the documentation necessary. Use specific numbers, dates and/or times instead of “never” or “always” to ensure the documentation is as objective and factual as possible. Avoid extraneous details and include any explanation the employee offers.  

3. Keep it professional

Comments on the employee’s character or personality do not belong in an employee performance record. Managers should focus on describing the behavior, rather than the individual, and stick to job-related observations. 

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4. Underscore expectations 

Reiterate previously stated expectations, such as those shared in the job description or employee handbook, and note how the employee violated policies or isn’t fulfilling job requirements. This reminds the employee what the standard is and helps explain why the behavior or performance was unacceptable. 

5. Set a deadline for improvement 

Describe the expected standard of performance or desired behavioral change in specific terms (be at your desk every day by 8:30 a.m., for example), and set a deadline for the employee to consistently achieve it. Recommend any training that may be helpful. Follow up on the specified deadline, because failing to do so can damage the credibility of the process and give the impression you don’t truly care about improvement.  

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6. Talk face to face

Meet in person to present information and give the employee an opportunity to respond. The employee also can ask questions if there’s anything about the documentation they do not understand. A face-to-face meeting further demonstrates the employer is committed to fair and transparent communication. 

7. Explain the consequences

If, after documenting several warnings, the employee’s behavior doesn’t improve, prepare a summary that explains the consequences for failing to improve, such as additional disciplinary action up to and including employment termination.  

8. Get the employee’s signature

It’s essential to get the employee’s signature to confirm receipt and understanding of all documentation. While the signature acknowledges that the employee and employer discussed the performance issue, it does not mean the employee agrees with the assessment.

It does show the employee had an opportunity to respond, though, and provides further evidence that the employer made an honest attempt to communicate expectations, gave the employee a chance to correct the situation and made the employee aware of the expected consequences. 

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PEOs: The Smart Solution for Turnkey Performance Documentation

Employee performance documentation helps employees – and their small business employers – succeed. The process of officially recording underperformance communicates a company’s high standards while illustrating to employees that individual performance levels are important to the company’s success. The results are higher-performing teams and organizations and a culture of fairness. 

A trusted PEO like Axcet HR Solutions can make performance documentation turnkey for small businesses that may not have the human resources bandwidth to handle this critical, ongoing task. If your small business needs help managing employee challenges, an Axcet HR pro can help

Axcet HR Solutions Employee Relations

Written by Jenny Barnes

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