The Importance of Documenting Incidents & Investigations

Investigation Report

Detailed documentation is essential for providing evidence should there be a lawsuit

If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen. How many times have you heard that phrase? The one way to counteract that argument – documenting incidents. Many believe that keeping records regarding workplace investigations leads to greater risk, because it becomes challenging to hide the fact that you were aware of an important issue that should have been given attention. The Labour and Employment Law Blog has worked to debunk many common workplace myths- one of them tackles the issue of documenting workplace issues. In the post “Employment Laws Mistake #7 – Documenting Workplace Issues“, they state that “jurors, EEOC investigators, unemployment insurance judges and everyone in between, expect employers to keep good records and be able to produce them when there is an issue about the actions that were taken and the reasons for doing so.” Therefore, it won’t cut it if you try to avoid responsibility for your actions by simply not recording them.

The Importance of Record Keeping

There are a growing number of rules and regulations that businesses have to adhere to in order to demonstrate that sufficient action was taken regarding all workplace complaints. One of the easiest ways to create evidence to prove your case is to document all of the steps taken from the time an incident was reported to the conclusion and decision made after the completion of an investigation. The article “Documenting Employee Behavior and Performance” on HRHero.com states that:

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“Documentation can be used as a key tool for legal defense. Good documentation by supervisors and managers can mean the difference between a company winning and losing an employment-related lawsuit. For example, good documentation of an employee’s pattern of poor performance and discipline can establish that the employee’s firing wasn’t related to discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, disability, or national origin. An employer may have a much more difficult time proving that without such documentation.”

The above quote brings up a valuable question- can you afford not to take the time to document internal incidents and the rest of the investigation process? If taking the time to record incidents and information means the difference between winning or losing a case in court, wouldn’t it be easier to start documenting these matters now? It’s important for business leaders to understand that problems will only escalate if you neglect to record incidents- the idea that you cannot be held liable simply because there’s no written record of an incident isn’t going to help you out. Documentation can also benefit your business should an employee lodge a complaint after they have been removed from your company. The longer it takes for an incident to be reported, chances are, your recall of events- when left up to memory, will likely lead to a poor account of the events and reasoning behind decisions made, which could make your statements invalid. The post “Employment Laws Mistake #7 – Documenting Workplace Issues” states that “there are also a number of practical reasons to maintain proper documentation. While business organizations are dynamic and individuals may come and go- as well as their feelings toward an employer, the documents will always remain. Also, creating a written record helps to focus one’s attention and thinking and leads to better decision making.”

What to Record

In the article “Resolving Workplace Problems“, they reinforce the importance of documenting complaints, as well as providing a list of information that you will want to keep. “Set up a file and keep records of all relevant documents and correspondence.  Records should include:

  • Factual written summaries of incidents noting date, time, location, and persons involved.
  • Memos and letters
  • Relevant work documents
  • Meeting notes
  • Performance evaluations
  • Any other relevant paperwork to document your workplace problem- investigation interviews, witness statements, etc.

Keeping a paper trail is essential for providing needed evidence should legal action be needed down the road.” It’s impossible to have too much information regarding an incident- you would much rather be safe than sorry when it comes to legal matters.

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Article Published March 16, 2010

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