HR Needs It Signed on the Dotted Line

“I don’t like to do write-ups. Can’t a conversation with an employee work just as well?”

Your HR Survival Tips

One reason HR has so many forms and other written documentation is that good HR processes are a company’s main defense against employee lawsuits. I’ve been told by employment attorneys that any paper in an employee’s file has little value unless the employee has signed it… their signature is your proof that the employee has seen that piece of paper. A conversation isn’t a usable defense because you can’t prove what was discussed.

What does signed documentation have to do with managing employee performance? It’s your backup, your proof, your evidence that you are trying or did try to help your employee’s performance improve.

When you set up this meeting to discuss continued problems with an employee’s performance, you’ll want to have a memo already prepared. This memo will:

  • be ‘to’ the employee (full name),
  • be copied to ‘Personnel File’ and your supervisor (if any),
  • use a topic of ‘Job Performance’ or something similar,
  • include any previous discussions you have had with the employee regarding these issues (and any paperwork), and
  • include exactly what your employee must do to correct these issues and appropriate deadlines.

The memo should not be more than a page and one-half if you have stayed on top of the employee’s performance and dealt with the issues as they have arisen. Deadlines are essential but it is equally important that you give them a fair and generous amount of time, depending on what the issue is. Tasks can be immediate; behavior takes longer.

At the bottom of the memo put “Received and discussed:” and below that put a line for the employee’s signature.

You really want to obtain the employee’s signature for the memo to have the most HR value. Most people will sign it if you merely mention that their signature does not imply they agree with you. What you are trying to achieve is proof that the employee did, indeed, receive the memo.

If the employee refuses to sign, there is one other method you can try. In the bottom corner of the memo’s last page, handwrite “refused to sign” and ask the employee to initial that statement. Although you still don’t have their full signature, the initials add value. If there is another person in the room, they can make a note on it for you that they witnessed the memo being given to the employee. Otherwise, you need to make a note at the bottom that the employee refused to sign, then initial and date your note.

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