I’m almost positive you’ve heard that line before.  And I’m almost positive it was in response to a discussion about the performance or behavior of an employee that you, or your boss wants to terminate.
So why do Human Resource pros ask this question?  Simple.  To do the RIGHT THING by the company and by the employee.
For the employee, it’s best to give someone the chance to correct their behavior or performance issues as early as possible.  This can be done beginning with a verbal warning (which really is a verbal warning with documentation that you spoke to them) and can increase if and when the behavior continues.  The sooner you speak to an employee about their tardiness the sooner they are on notice that the behavior is unacceptable and that it needs to be corrected.  Perhaps they have a home issue that you weren’t aware of, or maybe they thought being late was acceptable because so-and-so does it too.  You get the idea though; it’s all about communication to the employee so they are aware.
For the company there are many reasons why documentation is important.
Future litigation.  When the company keeps a record of proper documentation when dealing with an employee, it creates a paper trail that can shield the company from a wrongful termination claim or discrimination claim.  If the proper steps were taken to address the behavior or performance issue with the employee, the company will be able to prove that the termination was warranted.
Correct behavior and improve performance.  You have a company to run and you want it ran efficiently so you can turn a profit, right?  In order for that to happen you need to run a tight ship and if one of your “crew” isn’t swabbing the deck properly it affects the performance of the whole operation, right?  Correcting behavior and improving performance not only allows the employee a fair change as mentioned before, but also ensures that your business runs smoothly.
Unemployment claims.  In most states, if you discharge an employee for cause and have proper documentation to warrant the termination, your former employee (in most cases) will not be awarded unemployment benefits.  This is a “win” for you because, like all insurances, the more claims you have the higher your insurance rating goes, the more you pay.
Provides a record.  Records are great because if you leave the company, the next manager will have a record of the behavior or performance issue and can pick up where you left off.  It provides exactly what we’re talking about here, documentation of poor performance or bad behavior and the steps you took to correct it.
To properly terminate. Can you just up and terminate someone because employment is “at-will?”  Of course you can!  The problem lies in all the ideas discussed above.  If you want to avoid a disgruntled employee, a costly wrongful termination or discrimination claim, a poor performing/behaving employee, and rising costs to your unemployment insurance then properly terminating an employee with documentation is the best practice.
I’ll end with something else you’ve probably heard from an HR pro: “Document.  Document.  Document.”
By: LeiLani Quiray, SPHR
HR Director of VertiSource HR