We can't over-emphasize this: it's critical for small businesses and startups to reduce the risk of expensive, time-consuming lawsuits from disgruntled former employees. This need is particularly acute here in South Florida, which is one of the most active areas in the country for many kinds of actions against employers.
But this doesn't mean you shouldn't discipline or fire problematic team members. It means you should manage your team consistently, fairly, and in accordance with your (many) legal obligations.
One key component of that is documenting your disciplinary actions. Those verbal warnings, written warnings, suspensions, etc.... they all need to be recorded, with both factual specificity and important context included. There are many good reasons to do this. Here are a few.
- Consistent discipline (and documentation of it) clarifies to your employees what is and what is not acceptable behavior. We've talked to so many managers and founders who were ready to pull the trigger on firing employees for specific behaviors until we asked them simple questions: when and how was that employee informed that this behavior was not ok? Have other employees been disciplined or terminated for similar issues? Do you have documentation of that?
- Documenting disciplinary actions creates a factual basis for defending your termination. Make sure to document the problem, the employee's overall performance, the steps taken in response to the problem, and all other relevant facts. Do this with specificity: record the who, what, why, when, and where. When possible, try to get specific statements from anyone who was involved in a relevant incident or who witnessed it. If and when you have to defend yourself against a wrongful termination suit -- and yes, that's still very possible even though Florida is a "right to work" state -- you'll have the groundwork for your defense. And if you document these issues consistently, that problematic former employee may think twice before filing a spurious action.
- Having to document your disciplinary actions is an opportunity for you to check your own decisions. Is your current action consistent with your policies? With your prior practices? Are you being fair, nonretaliatory, and nondiscriminatory? Will it look that way if this employee claims otherwise?
To those ends, we've created an easy-to-use tool for you to document your disciplinary actions. This form allows you to quickly document the relevant facts and context, and email yourself a copy of the report instantly. You can also choose to email a copy of the report to the relevant employee, which can be a very good idea in many cases.
The Law Offices of Max Levine, PA, works exclusively on guiding small businesses and pre-venture startups. We can help you understand you employment law responsibilities -- and minimize the risk of lawsuits -- as part of helping you stay focused on what actually matters to your business.
To learn more about how we can help you, contact us.