Our clients recognize how important it is to write up employees when situations call for it.  Yet, most companies struggle terribly with getting supervisors actually to fill out a disciplinary form when a problem arises with an employee.  Why is that?  And what can employers do to fix it?

The most common explanation we hear is that filling out a disciplinary form just takes too much time.  Supervisors, like everyone else, believe that they already have too little time to perform their main duties.  Just the thought of having to sit down to fill out HR paperwork often seems like an impossible additional task.

That perception, however, does not have just one flawed assumption.  It has two.

The first mistake is the view that filling out “HR paperwork” is not one of a supervisor’s “main duties.”  Employees manage tasks; supervisors manage people.  One of the most important tools in managing people is the responsibility to inform the stakeholders (both the employee and management) whether an employee’s actions are acceptable or problematic.  Therefore, writing up an employee is not tangential to a supervisor’s primary duties.  It is a primary duty.

The second mistake is the (often) false notion that the main barrier to performing write-ups is the time it takes to do them.  The real reason in most cases is very different.  

Supervisors often are anxious about doing write-ups because they don’t really know how to do them.  Sometimes, the reason for the difficulty is that the disciplinary form itself is a bad one.  It may be unclear.  It may be confusing.  The company’s form often makes it difficult for the supervisor to know exactly what information to provide or how much detail to include.  Uncertainty creates anxiety, and anxiety causes procrastination.  It’s not a supervisor’s fault.  Blame human nature (and the company’s disciplinary form).

In addition to poorly drafted disciplinary forms, there is another common—and crucial—reason why supervisors often are unsure how to perform a write-up.  It is because they often don’t know the purpose of the write-up.  Sure, it potentially will be used for disciplining an employee.  But that does not answer the question.  Even worse, companies often don’t know the answer to the question.  What is this write-up supposed to accomplish?

The Goals of an Employee Write-up

The answer begins with a crucial insight.  All employee issues do not fall into a single category of impropriety.  They fall into one of two different categories.  Employee issues consist of either poor performance or misconduct.  An employee who is not performing up to a company’s expectations is “guilty” of poor performance, not misconduct.  An employee who has violated a company’s policies (such as insubordination) is “guilty” of misconduct, not poor performance.  The primary reason to write up a poorly performing employee is to attempt to rehabilitate the employee—to see if the employee can perform up to expectations.  The primary purpose for disciplining an employee who engaged in misconduct is to prevent future misconduct (of course, there are other purposes for write-ups, including the legal protection of the company).

With the clarity of this distinction, performing a write-up almost becomes common sense.  Incidents of poor performance require information about the company’s expectations, how the employee has failed to meet those expectations, what the plan is for the employee to meet those expectations in the future, and what will happen if the employee does not meet them.  Incidents of misconduct require documentation of the company rule that was violated, extensive details about the alleged incident of misconduct (including, when necessary, an investigation of the incident), and the consequences of further misconduct. 

At Luchansky Law, we make sure that our clients have the HR tools they need, including well-drafted forms to utilize for hiring, discipline, termination of employment, and non-compete agreements.  We also train our clients’ supervisors to understand their duties clearly and how to maximize their performance.  The result is better operations and less anxiety—for the supervisors and the company’s owners.  If you would like to discuss whether your HR tools may need a tune-up, or whether your supervisors would benefit from some training, give us a call at (410) 522-1020 to schedule a consultation.

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