Question:  I wish to begin regular documentation of employee performance, both positive and negative.  Where do I start and how comprehensive should the documentation be?  How do I distinguish between what's inappropriate and what's trivial in terms of behavior?

As an employer, there is no such thing as too much documentation regarding employee behavior.  There was a national study conducted by that found that one out of every three employers rated their documentation (for misconduct, attendance, performance appraisals) as "Not Very Good."  The reasons for improper documentation vary, but include fear of confrontation, the process is too much trouble, too time consuming, and lack of proper training.

Documenting employee behavior is beneficial for multiple reasons, including performance appraisal reviews, and necessary disciplinary actions.  Sometimes when employees do something wrong, as a stand-alone event seem insignificant, but when pieced together with continual infractions show a pattern of behavior that needs to be dealt with.

Although Arizona is an "Employment at Will" state, defined as "both the employer and the employee can end the employment relationship at any time for any reason or for no reason without any notice,"  it still is prudent to protect oneself through proper documentation of employee behavior.  With written documentation, it is easy to produce justification for terminating an employee.

No employee behavior should be considered trivial whether negative or positive.  Documentation of behavior should be done as soon as possible, and should be specific as to the details (who, what, when, where, how, time, date).  It is not in the employers best interest to have an evaluation form that involves a checklist for an appraisal.  Check boxes regarding behavior have been shown to be inconclusive and difficult to determine if a merit raise is warranted or if termination is needed.  It is best to use long-hand evaluation forms for specific behaviors to be recognized.

Here are some examples of proper/improper documentation:

Proper:  January 9, 2006; 15 minutes late to work, because of "traffic."

             January 18, late to work "alarm didn't work".

             January 29, 20 minutes late due to "car trouble".

Improper:  Late to work several times this month.

Proper:  August 8, 2006, 2:00pm, front office manager heard rude comments being made to patient E.B.  She reported you said "Insurance is your problem, not ours.  You should know better since you have been in our office before," using a harsh tone of voice.  Office manager then overheard patient telling her spouse that she "felt like she just got yelled at."

Improper:  August 8, 2006 you were rude to a patient.

Proper: August 22, 2006, 11:45 am, Hygienist, S.H. observed you helping out a fellow employee by cleaning her instruments for her because she was running behind.

Note: If the employer does not personally observe a behavior, have the employee that did give a written statement for the file.

When a positive behavior is exhibited, it is best to recognize the employee as soon as possible.  Looking for small indicators of good performance and identifying the performance immediately is a successful way of improving future performance, especially when others in your dental team realize that you take note of these actions.  Continually writing down and verbally acknowledging good behavior makes the yearly appraisal report much easier to complete and justify.

 In regard to negative behavior, once it has been determined that an employee is behaving in a manner not conducive to office policy, disciplinary action must be taken.  When to begin the disciplinary action depends upon each employers tolerance, and the extent of the employee's negative behaviors. 

The first step in discipline is a verbal warning.  An employer should have a face to face conference with the employee and state specifics regarding the behavior that is not tolerated in the office.  By giving specifics, there is little wiggle room for the employee.  It is difficult to fight when facts are presented.  After discussing the negative behavior, set specific expectations for future performance.  For example, "It is my policy for an employee to be on time.  If you are late again, it will result in a written warning, and the third offense will be termination."  Make note in the employee's file that there was a verbal warning regarding ___ behavior on ___date and employee was notified of the disciplinary process.

With another infraction, again have a conference detailing the specific behaviors, this time writing down the specific offense and the expectation of performance regarding the behavior.  Have the employee sign this document. Include that further behavior of this kind will result in termination.  This document should be dated and kept in the employee's file.

If termination is the final step with a specific employee, the employer can feel confident that the facts were presented, the employee was given a fair chance for improvement and that termination of employment was warranted.

Any given employee can affect an entire team, and your practice.  The impact an employee makes, both positive and negative must be recognized and dealt with in an effective manner to keep the dentist, fellow employees and patients happy.