If you are an employee with concerns about your employer, or you think you may pursue a legal action someday, please know that the documentation you keep is critical. Do not assume the employer or others will keep important documents and give them to you later. Also, don’t assume the employer will agree with your recollections of events- if you keep a journal with details (who, what, when, etc.), that documentation will make your position more credible.
More about documentation…
1. Keep a Journal.
If bad things or important things are happening, document those things. Keep a journal. Each time something bad happens, write down: (1) exactly what happened, or exactly what was said; (2) the date and time it occurred; and (3) the names and titles of the people involved.
2. If You Complain to Management About Something, Do It In Writing.
If you are thinking of making a complaint to management (e.g. about sexual harassment, unpaid wages, etc.), you should weigh the risks of retaliation and consider other factors before going forward with a complaint. But if you do decide to go ahead and complain, you should consider not making that complaint just a spoken one, and creating documentation or a recording of what was said.
If you complain to a manager in person, that is fine, but consider following it up with an email referencing what was said. You should consider providing management with emails, letters or other written correspondence that documents what your complaints are. Alternatively, if you are a Wisconsin employee, it is lawful in our State to make a tape recording of a conversation, so long as at least one party to the conversation (i.e. you) knows it is being recorded.
If you do not document or record your complaints and important communications with the employer, you are at risk of the employer: (1) not recalling exactly what was said; (2) remembering things in a way that is more favorable to them than what actually occurred; or (3) denying you complained at all. Please do not assume people will remember or own up to your version of events. If you have documented your communication, there can be no doubt what you communicated.
3. Save Important Documents. If your boss sends you a discriminatory email, print and save it. If the employer sends you a letter about discipline or termination, save it. If you are being underpaid wages, save your payroll stubs, copies of your time cards, and any other payroll information. You should save copies of all important documents that may be remotely important to your concerns (unless there is a company policy explicitly prohibiting this). Err on the side of keeping a document, if it could in any way conceivably be used in a legal action.
All too often, I speak to prospective clients who lost or threw away material documents that could have helped them immensely. Their mistake is understandable- in everyday life (where litigation is not an immediate concern), people want to reduce clutter. But if you are being underpaid wages, your pay stubs are no longer clutter, they are potential assets.
If you feel there are any potential legal concerns that could arise with your employer, please keep the tips above in mind, and be constantly aware of the value of keeping a journal and documentation.