Businesses often do not realize that the basic documents they have to have on file can actually expose them to a myriad of risks.

“While company documents are necessary, some can expose a company to liability and other harms. Knowing how to identify and cut the harmful ones may help a company lower corporate risks” write Jackson Lewis attorneys Courtney Malveaux, Richard Vitarelli and Adam Doerr. The three types of documents discussed in the article are dishonest documents, misunderstood documents, and disorganized documents.

Dishonest documents can cause problems because they don’t accurately reflect an employee’s work— a written job description that does not accurately reflect what the person in the position actually does, or an employee performance evaluation that does not honestly reflect the employee’s performance. Dishonest documents can expose businesses to legal liability by calling into question their policies, as well as creating operational disruptions and disengaged employees.

Misunderstood documents, the attorneys say, are those that are not clear or specific enough.

“For example, a vacation pay policy may require employees to come to work the day before and/or after a scheduled holiday to qualify for the benefit,” they write. “Does it specify whether employees must work their entire scheduled shifts before or after the holiday? Or will showing up for five minutes do? How about leaving five minutes early? Even with a supervisor’s verbal permission?”

Even small misunderstanding can lead to a multimillion-dollar dispute. The best way a business can avoid having misunderstood documents is by improving draftsmanship of documents in the first place and clarifying the language in their written policies when holes are discovered.

Unlike the other two categories, disorganized documents may be excellently written and perfectly accurate. The problem is, no one knows where they are. The authors note that disorganized documents are an especially prevalent problem in the construction industry because of the sheer number of different documents they have to keep track of.

The writers urge businesses to devote time and resources to developing a document management system to that employees will able to access the documents they need when they need them.

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