Visitors to the Forum and the Academy know that regular posters like Littlelulu, msliberated, Curt and I are always harping on the importance of DOCUMENTATION. And folks have asked: “What does that mean?” This article is going to give you the nuts and bolts of documentation, so you can protect yourself from any rogue activity that your employer or supervisor may engage in. By “rogue activity”, I mean your employer manufacturing documents and supposed incidents that occurred.
It would help, I think, to start with the Dictionary definition. From my Webster’s Dictionary, “Documentation” means “the act or an instance of furnishing or authenticating with documents.” What’s a “Document”? As a Noun (a thing), a Document is “…an original or official paper relied on as the basis, proof, or support of something” or “a writing conveying information”. As a Verb (describing an action) “to Document” is “to construct or produce with a high proportion of details closely reproducing authentic situations or events.”
Put it all together and DOCUMENTATION means to gather originals of or create yourself an accurate record of the evidence and information that will support your case and make your employer take you seriously – and maybe even wet their pants. Now – by “create yourself”, I do NOT mean you EVER create evidence fictitiously. You are simply recording the facts as they occurred. You never lie. The truth will be enough to tie your employer up in knots, because THEY’LL be the ones to lie – believe me. And they’ll get caught.
So – how exactly DO you gather or create evidence? Simple: first, you gather every policy your employer has on ANYTHING. If they have an Employee Handbook, get a copy of it. If they have a website, download and print anything you can from the website. Date the print-outs, so that if anything is later changed, you’ll have proof of the dates of your print-outs. If they have bulletin boards with posters and policies on them, snap photos of them with your camera phone, then download the photos to your computer and print copies. Again: date the print-outs. If you’ve received e-mails from your supervisor, HR, or anyone else that are remotely relevant to policies, procedures, or your situation, print them out. It’s also helpful to forward a “bcc” to your home e-mail. Just make sure there’s no company-confidential information contained in the e-mail when you send it. If an e-mail does contain confidential information, it’s best to print it out instead, so you can black-out the confidential stuff.
When you have a verbal conversation with your supervisor or HR, you should follow up with an e-mail after the conversation to say, “I just want to ensure I fully understand your instructions and expectations as we discussed them this morning. As I understand it, you would like ………. If my understanding is incorrect, please let me know.” This way, even though your employer may not want to put something in writing, YOU’VE put it in writing. And you’ve given your employer the opportunity to correct any misunderstanding.
Next, go to your local office supply and pick up a small, bound notebook – NOT a spiral notebook or a ring binder-type notebook, but one that is bound like a regular book, so that if pages are torn out, it’s obvious. Then make sure you don’t tear any pages out of it. Starting on the first page and filling every line on each page, make notations EVERY DAY about what’s going on: what’s happening to you, by whom, what time, where, who was present, who witnessed it, what else was going on at the same time, etc. Write your notes in INK – never pencil. If you make a mistake with a word or statement, simply cross through it with a SINGLE LINE. Never “black out” the entire word or sentence so it’s illegible. Add a notation to indicate why you made the change – and when.
When you’re recording information in your notebook, you should also note other information that can help substantiate the date the note was written. Include exact quotes – complete with quote marks and the name of the person making the statement. Again: Date and Time on every entry.
Here’s an example of what a notebook will look when done correctly. (Use your imagination here: this is your handwriting, not a typed document)
Mon., Jan. 31, 2011 / 6 am – Called in to Supervisor Sam, letting him know I wouldn’t be in because of my asthma, and I was using an FMLA day. Called my doctor to get a refill prescription for inhalers. My wife went to pick up the prescription and while she was out, purchased a book from the bookstore for me called “Working for You Isn’t Working for Me” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elser. I’m sure Supervisor Sam will be mad as a hornet at me tomorrow because I’ve used a couple of FMLA days in the last year.
Tues., Feb.1, 2011 / 9:00 am – Supervisor Sam yelled at me this morning because I took an FMLA day yesterday because my asthma was kicking up and I could barely breathe. Supervisor Sam said, “That’s the fourth time you’ve missed work in the last year! I’ve got customers who need attention – I need you here every day – asthma or no. If you can’t be here, I’ll find someone who can.” Told Supervisor Sam that this wasn’t just an ordinary absence – I used an FMLA day, and had called in using the correct procedure. Told Supervisor Sam that serving the customers is important to me, but my health is important also, and that’s the purpose of FMLA. Supervisor Sam was not happy – he stomped away, grumbling “We’ll see about that. I’ll teach you a lesson about using FMLA.”
Weds., Feb. 2, 2011 / 7 am – Arrived at work to find my desk had been moved to a closet. Supervisor Sam was in his office with a group of employees, all of them laughing at me. Supervisor Sam said my desk would stay in the closet until my attendance improved. I sent an e-mail to Supervisor Sam, confirming what he said and asked him to correct my understanding if I am wrong. Bill B. stopped by and said he was sorry Supervisor Sam was retaliating against me, and that something similar had happened to him last month – Supervisor Sam gave him 3 days off without pay because he used an FMLA day.
With a careful written record of the facts of your situation and all the events surrounding it, you’ll have the “smoking gun” you need to prevail against any unscrupulous “file padding” in which your employer may engage.
From Curt: Mary has a few openings to help community members with their documentation, timelines, and EEOC filings. Her rate is a very reasonable $50 per hour. Quickly contact her at the email above if you want her specialized help.
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