Managers have long known that establishing a paper trail about bad behavior before an employee is fired can be powerful protection against litigation.
But imagine if the employee in question were notified by a supervisor about each and every negative slip of paper that was placed in his or her personnel file?
In Massachusetts, that’s exactly what’s required of employers under the state’s newly amended Personnel Records Law.
Under the amended law, employers are required to notify an employee within 10 days of the employer placing in the employee’s personnel record any negative information. The amendment was nestled in the 134-page economic development bill — which was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick on August 5 and is meant to stimulate job growth among small businesses.
Employment experts, who were taken by surprise by the tweaked law, say the amendment may make life tougher for employers. They say the changes will initially create confusion about what exactly constiutes “negative information.” And at its worst, experts say, the change could mire managers in red tape and make companies more vulnerable to lawsuits.
The standard human resource practice is that comments about an employee — both positive and negative — should never catch an employee by surprise, said Bob Eubank, executive director of the Northeast Human Resources Association.
But the reality is that the new law has the potential to “complicate lawsuits extraordinarily,” said Eubank. “For example, if someone is suing their employer because they were terminated for nonperformance, the question is, how can we be sure that all negative comments about the employee were put in the file? Does (the new law) encourage employers not to put comments in their file? In practice, the law raises all kinds of problems.”