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    Documenting personnel activity must occur throughout the entire process - from recruiting to post-termination.  Let's look at fundamental examples of CYA (chronicle your actions) that come up frequently in HR administration.


    1.   Pre-hire:  Reference checking for a person being considered for a safety-sensitive job, or one where extensive vehicle use is called for, or extensive contact with minors, or where this person has access to company funds.


    Because the neutral reference is still widespread, you won't get much going that route.  Do you just leave it at that?  No, you cannot afford to get the neutral phone reference and send the notes to the file.  You have to document the unwillingness of the current (or previous employer) of the candidate to go beyond the neutral reference. 


    So you create a form letter that says something like: "Recently I requested a reference for John Smith, and you provided his start and stop dates and position held at the time of his separation.  I renew my request for the following: He is being considered for a truckdriver position, Class D license required, and I would like your input as to his fitness for such duty.  Also, would you rehire this person?"


    If you hear nothing back or this employer repeats its statement that its policy is not to provide any further reference information, you must AGAIN write and state something like: "On October __ you advised me that it is your company's policy to provide only the information requested.  I renew my request for information about his fitness for a truckdriver position.  Please advise me if your position changes and you are willing to provide the information requested."


    What is the point of this documentation?  You must chronicle your effort to get background information about this prospective hire, because if you hire him and he causes injury to a third party (another employee or a member of the public) you can be sued as an employer for negligent hire.  A jury would wonder why you went ahead and hired him without trying harder to get that reference.  But a jury that sees your paper trail can conclude that you made more than a superficial effort to find out about him from this previous employer.


    2.   Absenteeism problem:  Maria is coming in late, based on an oral agreement she reached with her supervisor.  He comes to you itching to discipline her and says: "I gave her some slack for the first two weeks of work because she was in between sitters and had to drop them at her mom's in the northwest side.  But now she's taking advantage and coming in a half hour late and it's been over a month."   Maria tells you that he had told her it was OK to start at 10 instead of 9 and work through lunch for as long as she needed.  "I never would have taken the job if I had to come in at 9," she tells you.  Her boss never made any record of their arrangement.  There is no legal liability for giving her a stern warning to conform to normal hours - you can tell her to come in at 9 or start looking elsewhere.  


    But if she ultimately gets dismissed and files for unemployment, you have a credibility contest that could have been avoided had her supervisor created a chronicle.


    3.   Did he quit?  Was he fired?    Elmer complained about how things were going to co-workers, and on March 1 told his boss he was going to leave on June 1 - the pressure was too much.  On May 15 he told his boss he was changing his mind and was going to stay, but that he was very upset about the way he was being treated.  His hours were being cut and some of his duties were being assigned to others because his boss couldn't trust him to get the job done - and to stop bad mouthing the organization.  On June 1 he failed to report to work and left a voice mail that he needed to take time off for a couple of days to "relieve the humiliation and anxiety overwhelming him on the job"  The company this entire time has prepared no document formalizing his resignation, acknowledging his change of heart, addressing his complaints about work, or registering his disappearance from work on and after June 1. 


    On June 15 he filed for unemployment, claiming he had been fired.  He could win, since the employer has done nothing along the way to chronicle these events.