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The right way to talk to employees


Disciplinary issues shouldn't be a formal event - but you should take steps to protect yourself.

Performance reviews – the two words that immediately emit groans, eye-rolls and that pit-in-the-stomach feeling. But the best offices will conduct these on an annual basis.

This is a great time to look back at past performance and develop a plan for future, personal growth for the employee. However, many times these meetings are used to address unwanted behavior that may have occurred several weeks or months ago. The reality is that unwanted behavior should be corrected immediately and should not wait for an annual or pre-scheduled meeting.

It also does not need to be a formal meeting. A quick conversation in a private area is sufficient to drive the point home that this is behavior that is not tolerated in this office. I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard “If only I would’ve said something when it first occurred.”

Related article: Know when it's time to fire an employee

The major point to remember, however, is that although it may not be a formal meeting, it still must be documented as a verbal counseling. This is where most employers drop the proverbial HR ball. Documentation is the one thing that will protect you, whether it involves clinical notes or employee guidance. And just as the meeting doesn’t have to be formal, neither does the documentation.

Let’s review some steps for staying on top of the documentation game in the HR arena.


It is advisable to document immediately. Memory fades with time; in order to record the exact words or actions, write down the interaction as soon as possible.


You do not need a form for each counseling session. A simple handwritten note is adequate. However, there is information that absolutely needs to be included:

  • Who was involved in the discussion

  • The date and time of the conversation

If it is a behavior or action being addressed for the second time, the written documentation should include what the consequences could be if it continues and the employee signs it. This should chronicle the verbal discussion (date and time) and allow the employee an opportunity to make comments. (Need a counseling form? Email info@GTSgurus.com)


Details need to be thorough and factual. Subjective observations are weak in the eyes of an outside observer, should this ever go to the level of a judge, jury or unemployment representative.

  • “Betty made major mistakes with her insurance claims processing - costing the office $2543 in adjustments” instead of “Betty doesn’t care about her job.”

  • “Bob raised his voice and was involved in a verbal fight with a patient at the front desk. He called the hygienist a stupid diva at the team meeting” instead of, “Bob has seemed agitated and argumentative with everyone.” Or worse: “Bob just hasn’t been himself lately.”

You will want to think about who will look at this later to determine if it meets the factual criteria. Some employers have the discipline meeting, and then have the employee write down the discussion that occurred.

Just as the details need to be factual, so do the consequences. A simple “This behavior must change” is not sufficient for future effects. Detailed, measurable performance guidelines are in order:

“Jane has been advised that future infractions of the dress code policy will result in progressive discipline, which may include being sent home for the day without pay or even termination.”


All employee documentation must be kept in the employee’s personnel file. This could be a folder kept in a locked drawer or cabinet or in digital form on the employer’s computer.

Related article: How to manage the employee you hate

There are very few people who like to have these uncomfortable conversations, however, it is necessary to maintain the culture of your practice. Immediate discussions work best at redirecting unwanted behavior or actions. Many times, people are not aware of a bad attitude or sharpness in their voice. A simple acknowledgement of the activity is all that is warranted to correct it.

Keeping emotions and opinions at bay by being factual and objective goes a long way and provides quick, understanding results. Remembering to properly document these conversations will save you in the long run.

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