Dear Prudence

Help! What’s the Best Way to Document Harassment, Abuse, or Discrimination?

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Male hands typing on a laptop.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Cytonn Photography/Unsplash.

Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. Document everything: I have a technical question. I often see the advice to “document everything” when it comes to possible instances of workplace harassment, an abusive marriage, discrimination, etc. What does that mean exactly? In my head, I imagine a Word document with a list of dates and brief descriptions of events. Does that hold up merit in court? If your advice is to consult a lawyer and document everything in the meantime, how do you suggest people actually do that?

A: I think it’s best to email yourself, especially if the matter is work-related, because then you have an external date stamp. Do it as soon as possible after the event in question, send it to more than one email address if possible (using at least one non-work-related email so you’ll always have access to the account even if you’re suddenly fired). Evidence rules are pretty complicated, so I’m not going to make an assertion about how well these records may or may not hold up in court, since it depends on what kind of case it is. Certainly if someone else was present to witness the events you’ve recorded, you can and should include that information in case that person is needed to confirm your testimony. It’s not necessarily in itself a slam-dunk, but it’s helpful in demonstrating a pattern of behavior and may provide details that can be confirmed by external sources (like where something took place, who was there, etc.).