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 produce them to you later, or will agree with your undocumented recollections of events.
More about documentation…
1. Keep Documentation/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, by all means make sure that complaint is not just spoken, and that you create documentation or a recording of what was said.
If you complain to a manager in person, that is fine, but follow it up with an email recapping what was said. You should provide 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 high 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. Document your version, so 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), it helps people stay organized to reduce clutter. But if you are being underpaid wages, your pay stubs are no longer clutter, they are valuable 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.