How documentation helps determine behavior change or complaint filing
Documentation is an important tool for effective communication, accountability and self-awareness in the workplace. It can also be a protective measure in distinguishing between self-inflicted maltreatment and discrimination.
“When it comes to protecting yourself, it’s really important to be honest about yourself, to be honest about the situation, to be honest about where you are because sometimes it’s you,” says Adebisi Wilson, an attorney in Minneapolis.
Wilson cautions that before employees go down the road of talking to human resources (HR) about discrimination, they should look honestly at their communication style and performance. “You may find that you didn’t do that thing on time, then you got three extensions,” she says. “Then when you submitted it, you felt like you did something really big, but it wasn’t what it could have been had you done it right the first time.”
She says there is nothing wrong with admitting your methods or behavior needs to change and seeking help from a trusted resource within the organization to give honest feedback. “One of the things that I find is that a lot of us are navigating this business world for the first time, and some of the things that we’re encountering, we don’t know how to handle, or we take it personal when it’s really business.”
After self-reflection, many Black women who find that they are, in fact, being treated unfairly because of their race and gender look for ways to protect their career and reputation. Wilson says that falsely accusing employees of performance and behavior issues are ways employers cover up their discriminatory practices. “A lot of clients feel like they’re being gaslit; they feel like they’re just crazy,” she says. “The only way to figure out what is really happening is to document everything.”
Forms of documentation may include keeping all emails to and from your manager, sending meeting recaps, immediately writing down occurrences in a notebook while they are fresh in your mind, and recording conversations if that is legal in your state.
“Employees are thinking everything is all good, or they are kiki’ing and the employer is thinking you should take some form of learning from the kiki.”
When it comes to adverse actions, such as being placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP), Wilson says the majority of her clients are blindsided by this form of discipline. She says it is vital to ensure documentation is timestamped and clear at this point in the process. In addition, she says that her clients find coaching sessions that lead up to the PIP or are a part of the PIP can be conducted in a confusing manner and present as regular meetings or conversations. “Employees are thinking everything is all good, or they are kiki’ing and the employer is thinking you should take some form of learning from the kiki.”
Wilson says sending meeting recaps asking for feedback can help to ensure that all parties are on the same page and to have a record of the discussion. When you feel the treatment is unresolvable with management, seeking HR is the next step. “You go to HR, and they either handle it or they don’t, and if it continues, you can contact an attorney and make a complaint with the EEOC even before you’ve had an adverse employment action, such as a PIP or termination.”
When you contact an attorney after you believe you’ve been the victim of discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability or genetics, they will want to see the documentation to ensure the case can be proven in court. “Without the documentation, it is their word against yours, making the case more difficult to win.”