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Documentation is the written and retained record of employment events. Documentation is made up of government and legally mandated elements, documents required by company policy and practice, documents suggested by best Human Resources practices, and formal and informal recordkeeping about employment events.

Documentation is a written record of an employee's actions, discussion, incidents of performance coaching, witnessed policy violations, disciplinary action, positive contributions, reward and recognition, investigations, failure to accomplish requirements and goals, performance evaluation, and more.

Documentation allows the employer or employee to preserve a written record of the happenings and discussions that occurred around a specific event. Documentation in the employment relationship provides a written record that may be necessary to support such actions as employee promotion, employee pay raises, and disciplinary action including employment termination.

Policies, procedures, the employee handbook, and performance development plans are also forms of documentation that record expected employee behavior and workplace requirements to maintain an orderly, fair workplace in which employees know what is expected from them.

Documentation is also the written record of the statements of the accused, the accuser, and witnesses to hostile workplace events that involve employee misconduct such as sexual harassment.

Documentation may be formal and retained in the employee's personnel file. Employees are expected to sign this documentation to acknowledge that they have received a copy and have reviewed the contents. (The signature does not signify agreement with the statements in the documentation.)

This documentation also includes such permanent records as the signed employment application, written employment references, application materials such as resumes and cover letters, and background checks. Kept aside from the employee personnel file, such documentation as the I-9 form that verifies the eligibility of the employee to work in the U.S., is also maintained, as are medical records, FMLA records, and so forth.

Documentation may also be informal as in a manager's record of his or her discussions with an employee over the course of a year. It is important that managers maintain this documentation on all of their reporting staff members; no employee should be singled out because of performance. (This could be construed as discrimination at a later date.) Documentation of critical incidents, whether positive or negative, is also recommended so that managers have a record of employee performance spanning a period of time.

Documentation is used in other ways in organizations. These can include procedures, work instructions, and computer software instructions, to name a few, but for purposes of the Human Resources function, these are the common uses of documentation.


Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

The site has a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so the site cannot be definitive on all of them for your workplace. When in doubt, always seek legal counsel or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. The information on this site is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.

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