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Improve Documentation Practices

Hillary Pettegrew, Esq.
October 2023
Documentation Practices Masthead
Implementing robust employment and accident response documentation practices will help enhance your campus’ working environment and safety.

Thorough and complete documentation by your institution is critical. While good documentation is necessary across multiple campus functions, United Educators (UE) often sees claims linked to nonexistent or poor documentation in employment issues and accident response.

Rigorous documentation requirements can improve your workplace and safety culture. Because strong documentation can be reliable evidence of your school’s actions, it may reduce claims or make them easier to defend when they occur.

Legal advice: Work with an attorney to revise your documentation practices. Also, consult counsel promptly if you think a claim is coming against your school. Though documents created in the ordinary course of business (including performance evaluations or accident reports) usually must be produced during litigation, additional documentation created by or for counsel may be protected from disclosure.

Employment Issues

Many employment claims arise from (or are exacerbated by) missing or inadequate documentation of poor performance or misconduct requiring discipline.

One common scenario occurs when a supervisor gets impatient with an employee’s failure to improve and wants to fire the employee — but the employee’s evaluations indicate they’re “meeting expectations.” Sometimes, the file doesn’t reflect multiple verbal conversations between the employee and supervisor about problems. Firing the employee in these circumstances can be problematic.

Creating and enforcing documentation requirements benefits your workforce by making performance and conduct expectations clear and offering marginal employees the opportunity to improve. Clear requirements can protect your institution from liability; employees are less likely to claim wrongful termination, for example, if a written record of their deficient performance exists.

To help determine whether your school must improve employment documentation, do you:

  • Require written performance evaluations at least annually and train supervisors how to complete them (including providing specific examples of unsatisfactory work or policy violations)?
  • Sanction supervisors who fail to complete timely evaluations?
  • Educate supervisors on giving regular feedback between formal evaluations, including when and how to document the discussions (such as by signed and dated notes to the file)?
  • Teach supervisors to avoid potential retaliation against employees who file internal or external complaints (such as by documenting problems only after a complaint or suddenly “over-documenting” minor issues)?
  • Train supervisors how to document allegations of workplace harassment and other misconduct, including letting employees tell their side of the story?
  • Follow a written progressive discipline policy that motivates supervisors to address performance and conduct problems early, gives employees an opportunity to improve, and requires satisfying specific documentation requirements before firing an employee?
  • Encourage supervisors to proactively request Human Resources’ (HR’s) help addressing performance and discipline issues?


When you train supervisors and employees on performance and conduct issues, document attendance. Online training programs typically track completion, but keep written records of dates, topics, and attendance for in-person training. Confirm whether your state or locality mandates training frequency and duration for topics such as sexual harassment as California and Chicago do.

Accident Response

Appropriate accident response helps institutions improve campus safety. Clear and consistent documentation practices let officials see what was done well and where mistakes may have occurred, which may prevent or reduce the severity of similar incidents. Consult counsel about your specific legal obligations, including whether your institution is subject to federal regulation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or an alternative (such as state plans OSHA approved).

Educational institutions may experience more accidents than other businesses because they often have multiple campus locations and properties, such as:

Examine how your school documents its response to accidents that cause personal injuries or property damage. Do you:

  • Have a report and response system, including a written explanation of your documentation requirements?
  • Require documentation of “near misses” that don’t cause injury or damage?
  • Use a documentation template or form, such as those George Mason University, Penn State, or Oregon State University adopted?
  • Have a separate form for documenting vehicle accidents?
  • Ensure easy access to your documentation requirements and forms?
  • Strategically install video cameras in campus locations with high traffic or a history of accidents?
  • Train accident investigators on properly documenting witness interviews and other findings?

Document Maintenance Work

Regular maintenance of buildings and grounds, and prompt responses to requests for repairs, can help avoid accidents, especially slips, trips and falls. In a review of UE claims, slip and fall claims totaled more than $25 million over five years. Most indoor slips and falls occurred because a school didn’t clean water from the floor or alert people to the hazard. Some claims may have been avoided, or their severity reduced, if schools established a regular schedule for inspecting and cleaning floors during inclement weather — and required documentation (even checking off a form) when tasks were completed.

Most schools use online systems for maintenance requests; review yours to ensure it documents received and completed requests, including date and time of repairs and who performed them. Ensure documentation remains readily accessible. If someone is injured and brings a negligence claim, accurate and complete records may mitigate your liability or reduce damages. For example, a campus visitor dropped a claim when video footage showed warning cones around the damaged surface where the injury allegedly occurred — and proved the visitor wasn’t present when indicated.

Additional Considerations

Also consider the following when assessing your documentation practices:

  • Outline the substantive information and level of detail (such as a narrative account of events) the documentation must include.
  • Designate people or departments/offices responsible for completing and reviewing documentation.
  • Set forth appropriate timelines for creating and reviewing documentation. These will vary depending on the type of event involved. For example, with accidents causing death or serious injury contemporaneous documentation of the immediate response is crucial.
  • Clearly explain the required format (paper or electronic) for documentation.
  • Describe limitations on sharing documentation within and outside your institution.
  • Clarify how and where to store documentation, including restrictions on taking or accessing documents off-site. State how long documentation must be retained under your document retention policy or applicable law. For video or audio recordings, specify whether and when it’s permissible to erase or record over existing content.


More From UE

The Importance of Documentation

Properly Documenting Employee Disciplinary Actions

Responding to Injury-Causing Incidents on Campus: An Audit Guide

Slips and Falls Resource Collection

Additional Resources

Chapman University: Incident/Accident Reporting Policy and Procedure

OSHA: Incident [Accident] Investigations — A Guide for Employers


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