Skip to main content

Employment Management Tip: Documentation Best Practices

By June 6, 2022June 29th, 2022No Comments

Why do we write things down? To remember an activity, to describe any action, incident, or event. Documentation is important not only to an employee’s supervisor and the employee, but it’s also helpful for the organization’s leadership to understand the employee’s work experiences and potential hotspots. Good documentation is also important to assist with decision-making and support. Training supervisors and organizational leaders on how to create good documentation helps to create a positive, consistent, and stable organization.

Typically, employees want to do a good job, feel engaged in their work, feel valued, and work toward something “bigger” than themselves. Most people want to work in a culture that supports a positive rather than a punitive culturally based organization.

If you view documentation as a road map for improvement and eventually success, you’re on the right track! If your employees can see where they have come from, and where they are on the road to, you will likely have a very strong and sustainable team. If supervision changes hands, good documentation will provide the new leader with a better understanding of each individual employee.

The primary purpose of documenting an employee’s experience should not be to anticipate legal issues. However, there are legal considerations. Documentation in an employee’s file and organizational emails are “discoverable” should you be faced with a wrongful termination suit or any other employment-related suit.

The best way to avoid legal issues in documentation is to educate your supervisors to be S.M.A.R.T.:

  • Specific –Specify clearly and simply what needs done, when it’s to be done, who is to do what, and how they are to accomplish it.
  • Measurable – Ask questions as to how much? How many? How will you/they know when they are done? Remember to include quality, quantity, time frame, and cost (if applicable).
  • Attainable – Make sure that the objectives are reachable.
  • Realistic – Objectives should match the level of complexity with the employee’s experience and capabilities.
  • Time-bound – Clearly define a time frame for all the above!

Document clearly and carefully using the S.M.A.R.T. method for:

  • Performance appraisals
  • Recordkeeping
  • Coaching/counseling
  • Leaves

Why documentation in an employee’s personnel file is important:

  • Celebrating successes
  • Creating a history
  • Checking for understanding
  • Protecting the employee and the organization
  • Road map toward improvement and career development

An employee should not be surprised by what is in their personnel file. Individuals should never be left out of the documentation going into their personnel file. A conversation should always accompany any notes if your intention and goal are truly improvement and success-based.

The standards of proof, for the good and not so good, are no less stringent for a small nonprofit organization than for a corporate giant. In the eyes of the law, if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen.


501 members and 501(c) HR Services subscribers have unlimited access to HR Services. Contact us anytime regarding documentation, need a sample policy or procedure, or any other HR situations.

The information contained in this article is not a substitute for legal advice or counsel and has been pulled from multiple sources.

501c Services newsletter sign up - popup graphic envelope letter

Keep up with
the news

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for timely updates, news, and events.

close-link