The main purpose of documenting employee performance is to help your employee improve. The second purpose is to protect your business in the event of a lawsuit. Documenting performance can’t prevent you from being sued, but it can help you defend against a discrimination or unemployment compensation claim.

Federal and state employment laws protect certain classes of employees in every stage of employment –  from job recruitment to discharge. Those classes include: race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. When disciplining employees, reprimanding equally is the best way to demonstrate that you are not discriminating against an individual employee. It is also a great method to stamp out implicit bias managers may unknowingly have.

Writing letters of reprimand is time-consuming and can sometimes feel awkward. The best tactic is to be objective and consistent. Create a set of warning letters for the most common offenses at your workplace. Your letter of reprimand should include the following:

1.      Employee name

2.      Warning date

3.      Violation (citing the section from your employee handbook)

4.      How the employee violated that section

5.      Prior counseling or discipline on this issue

6.      The consequences of the employee’s failure to improve

7.      Employee’s signature

8.      Supervisor’s signature

If an employee refuses to sign the letter of reprimand, have a witness sign and date the letter.

In addition to assisting employers defend against charges of discrimination, documentation of misconduct may help an employer defend a claim for unemployment compensation. Unemployment compensation laws vary from state-to-state. However, the laws generally tend to favor employees. A record demonstrating that an employee was previously reprimanded for misconduct, and then subsequently terminated for that same misconduct, may help the employer defend against a claim for unemployment compensation. Every case is fact-specific, but thorough documentation will go a long way.

Employee attrition is costly. Lawsuits can be even costlier. Think of letters of reprimand as an opportunity to communicate your expectations to your employees. Encourage your employees to stay and improve. You are on the same team. Unfortunately, if your employees repeatedly fail to perform, you must be prepared to switch sides and play defense. Make consistent documentation a part of your game plan.

Need more help drafting letters of reprimand? Contact your HR Consultant.