How Best To Document: Addressing the "Time" Factor

When you create documentation about an employee’s behavior or performance, you are writing for a future audience. By looking at the documents, a future reader who was not there, does not know the players and may not even know anything about your business, should be able to tell what happened and should have no questions about the situation described in the document. When employment lawyers request files in the context of an employment discrimination lawsuit, we hope that the complainant’s personnel file will have documents describing all the gory details about his or her performance that we have heard about from our client.

Typically, however, this is not the case. Sometimes, the documentation on the employee is practically useless because it is incomprehensible.

Remember that documentation must include the "who," "what," "where," "when" and sometimes the "why" of the situation. When any of these are missing, the documentation becomes less helpful, if not completely worthless.

Handling Time in a Document

Time is an important factor to consider in any documentation. There may be two or more "whens": 1) When you are writing the report and 2) when the events you are writing about occurred.

  • Always date the report the date you are writing it.
  • Always make clear the date when the event (or events) you are writing about happened.

Here are some other factors about time to keep in mind when documenting:

  • When you write the date either on the report or in the report, you need to include the day, month and year. Do not forget the year. Especially when an employee is employed for years, if there is a report in the file that says "June 6," we may never know what year it was written. Get in the habit of writing a full date on notes, phone messages, reports and any documentation. You never know when it could be important.
  • Do not just say that an event occurred "last Tuesday." Look at a calendar and figure out the date to ensure accuracy.
  • Keep in mind that it might also be important to note the time of day that something happened, and whether it occurred before, after or during working hours.
  • Time can also be relevant when there is a sequence of events. Be sure the order in which things occurred is clear.

Here is an example:


Sarah came in a lot later than I thought she would. This was unacceptable and was not approved ahead of time. Ruth had to cover for Sarah, which meant Ruth could not do everything she needed. Margaret told me that Sarah was going to be a little late.


How many problems regarding time can you find with this memo?

Here is a suggested revision:

November 6, 2008


Sarah came in a lot later today, November 6, than I thought she would. Margaret told me yesterday that Sarah was going to be a little late today. I thought this meant about 15 minutes.

Sarah came in 1½ hours late today. This was unacceptable and was not approved ahead of time. Ruth had to cover for Sarah, which meant she could not do everything she needed.


Learning to handle the "time" factor in documentation can be helpful to the company in the future when that document plays a role in the company’s legal defense. Make sure to train your managers and executives in writing proper reports that contain all the necessary information so they clearly communicate to the reader, not only today, but also in the future.

First published on Human Resources IQ.