Death by Documentation!

IFT Field Representative Brenda PryorDear Union Brothers & Sisters,

I am writing to you today to discuss an issue of great concern – proper documentation in the workplace.  Many of your fellow Union members are being seriously disciplined, and even terminated, for defects in documents they submit to their colleges. I want you to know what to do to avoid these pitfalls.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. If you’re scheduled to work from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., with an unpaid 30 minute lunch, is it ok to work from 9:15 to 4:45, take no lunch and record “9-5” on your timesheet?  Despite what you may have observed, or have done in the past, the answer is “NO”!

A timesheet is a legal document that you sign that states that you have accurately recorded and worked the times that it represents.  Once you turn it in, you can be disciplined for turning in a fraudulent document and possibly asked to repay funds that were paid because of the erroneous timesheet.  You also need to be very careful when signing the timesheet of a subordinate.  If they are mistaken or lie on their timesheet, you can be disciplined for signing off on it.

To be clear, you should carefully review any document that requires your signature before you turn it in.  Ignorance of what a document actually contains is not a defense to prevent discipline.  If you can’t verify that the document is correct, you should not sign it until you can.  However, I understand that there are times that you are required to sign, or even demanded to sign, documents that you can’t verify.  If you are required to sign a document that you are unsure of, you should notate that on the document or send an email to your supervisor documenting that you were directed to sign something you were unsure about.

You should make your position known for the record.  A disclaimer is appropriate, such as—“Please be aware that I have now signed XYZ document after being directed to by you.  I maintain that I am unsure as to the veracity of the document that I signed and submitted, and would like to make it known that my signature only acknowledges that I have seen the document and signed it upon direction by you.  Thank you.”

Another problem with documentation that we have been confronting is changes in college documents that members are unaware of and unknowingly not complying with.  Besides the contract, you should acquaint yourself with your employee handbook, board policies, and any other work rules that govern your position.  If necessary, you should annually request updates from your supervisor or Human Resources Office regarding these rules.  This way a new rule can’t “sneak past you” and trip you up.  Also, the email requesting an update from your superiors can be used by the Union as documentation should you unfortunately run afoul of a rule and end up in a disciplinary hearing.

Ultimately, you should know that if it’s not documented, it doesn’t exist.  But once it’s documented, that’s what you’re stuck with. So, be careful with your documents!