Published on January 25, 2010 by Donna Seale
We all write notes for ourselves at some point or another, for one reason or another. Whether it be a ‘to do’ list, a goal list, a diary entry of what we did that day or a reminder to pick up eggs at the store, notes help us in innumerable ways in our daily lives. Notes are also critical in our work lives as well. They keep us on task. They help us remember what has been said or done in the past. They establish expectations.
Yes, notes are important for a whole host of reasons, both personal and professional, but from my perspective they are absolutely critical if you, as a manager/supervisor/employer become aware of a potential human rights issue in your workplace. By writing down what an employee has told you they have concerns about and what you did in response along with relevant dates and times and places, notes become key defense tools should questions ever be raised down the road about whether management appropriately handled a human rights issue, regardless of what it relates to.
Created pre-complaint, notes are often considered to be one of the most reliable pieces of evidence to be considered during a formal process. Certainly, when I am brought in to investigate a complaint I ask everyone and their dog if they made notes and I ask to see them right away. Often, the notes can short-circuit the investigation process, making it more efficient than it would have been without them. For example, let’s say a complainant employee is contending that they told their manager they were being subjected to racially-based harassment and the manager did nothing in response. Let’s also say that when I interview that manager, the manager recalls a conversation with the employee and also recalls going to the accused employee to tell them to stop their inappropriate conduct but she has not a single note of any of this. Now, I have a credibility issue I have to resolve. Who do I believe, the complainant employee or the manager? I then have to embark on asking a whole bunch of questions of potentially a whole bunch of people to learn about the complainant employee and the manager so that I can then step back at the end of the investigation and make a call as to whom, of the two, is the most believable. If, instead, that manager had notes, the situation is much different. I can then focus on the notes and go back to the complainant employee and ask them specific questions flowing from those notes. The manager’s credibility is enhanced by those notes. That is not to say that the credibility question is a slam-dunk in favor of the manager but it is certainly miles ahead from where it would have been without the notes.
When it comes to defending the actions that you, as a business took, regarding a human rights issue raised in your workplace, you never want to be left in a position where you have to reconstruct events or have to rely on memories that, for most people, are notoriously unreliable. The jigsaw puzzle type of analysis that has to be done when no notes exist leave an organization very vulnerable from a liability management perspective.
So, my advice is no matter how seemingly insignificant an employee comment or concern made to you about a potential human rights issue might appear at the time, write it down. Remember that age-old, but oh so still relevant saying — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.