Samford University

Corrective Action and Documentation

Poor performance or bad behavior on the job can take many forms. It is ultimately the supervisor's job to identify and then try to modify the undesirable performance or behavior of the employee so that it is in compliance with expectations. That, in a nutshell, is corrective action.

In the workplace we typically use a verbal or written warning or counseling to communicate to the employee what he/she is doing wrong; what needs to be done to correct the problem; and what will happen if the problem is not corrected.

Verbal Counseling

  • Verbal Counseling – To be used when an employee initially fails to meet behavioral and/or performance standards. An employee's continued employment should not be threatened at this stage.
  • Fact finding – Do your fact finding first. This includes talking to the employee to get his/her side of the story before you give any kind of warning.
  • The verbal counseling should include:
    • Behavior/performance that is unacceptable
    • Positive suggestions for improvement
    • Consequences to productivity or performance of failure to correct problem
  • Stay in the coaching and counseling mode – Try to find out why the employee's performance or behavior is unacceptable and help the employee plan for a change.
  • Documentation – Do not give the employee a written document for a verbal counseling. You may document that you gave the counseling in your notes. You should have talking points that you use to speak to the employee to ensure that you stay on point and these talking points will serve as your documentation that the counseling occurred.
  • Value - It may be of limited value as documentation but if the verbal counseling changes behavior then you have accomplished your goal.

Written Warnings

The written warning has two purposes: First, it is used to communicate with the employee so that, hopefully, the performance or behavior will be improved. Second, it provides documentation so that should the employee not change his/her performance or behavior and then termination of employment occurs, the University will be able to demonstrate that the termination occurred solely because of the employee's failure to meet expectations rather than any nefarious motive that may be alleged by the terminated employee.

  • Written Warning – To be used for a more serious offense or when the response to a verbal counseling is not sufficient. You do not necessarily have to give a verbal counseling before you can give a written warning.
  • Fact finding – Do your fact finding first. This includes talking to the employee to get his/her side of the story before you give any kind of warning. Do not give an employee the written warning at the same meeting in which you do fact finding.
  • Message – Use the "What if I got it" test. Does it make sense, is it appropriate?
  • It may be necessary in a written warning to make it clear to the employee that his/her continued employment may be in jeopardy if the appropriate response is not made to the written warning.
  • Review the written warning for:
      • Tone – do not get personal
      • Content – do not bring up a laundry list of the employee's sins
      • Clarity – will it make sense if read by an outsider?
      • Have the written warning reviewed by HR or your manager.
  • Value – It must be signed by all parties and then it has great value both as a behavior modifier as well as documentation.

If you have an employee whose performance/behavior does not meet expectations, what do you do?

You take corrective action and when taking corrective action with employees, your job as a manager is to:

  • To use the skill and expertise necessary to effectively change the employee's behavior/performance.
  • To make sure our actions are such that risk to the University is minimized. This risk is minimized by documenting what you are doing so that later a more evil motive cannot be attributed to your action(s). 

Here are some points to consider on documentation:

  • Just do it. Juror attitude studies have shown that juries believe "if it isn't written down, it didn't happen!"
  • Just do it timely. If you are going to praise or reprimand it must be done in close proximity to the event that precipitated the praise or reprimand or the effect is diminished significantly. Acting in a timely manner is critical.
  • The goal is to change behavior (the documentation is a by-product of pursuing that goal). The documentation is essential from a legal perspective, but if you are successful in changing behavior and no further action is necessary there will be no legal perspective with which to deal.
  • If you are going to have any potential for success in changing behavior you must successfully communicate to that employee: a) what he/she is doing wrong, i.e. the difference between expectations and actual performance; b) what he/she needs to do to do it right; and c) what will happen if he/she does not make the necessary corrections (this could be either a statement of potential outcomes related to the performance/behavior or it could be sanctions that may be taken, or both). Thus a document that covers the above (a-c) will be a good source to illustrate that whatever employment action was taken was taken for legitimate reasons.

Additional pointers:

  • Do not put anyone on "Probation" or use the term probation. Probation, as used in written warnings, typically has a beginning and an end. That is not what you want. You want to express to the employee that the performance/behavior improvement must be "immediate and continued".
  • Always end by expressing confidence that the employee can change his/her behavior/performance and you are willing to help as long as he/she tries.
  • Be sure that you initial or sign the document and if possible have the employee do so as well.