In a lawsuit companies and plaintiffs (those ex-employees suing you) give sworn testimony about what occurred in their particular case. The problem with this is memories fade or memories can change or be changed; and that is why documentation is important.
Memories can be manipulated
According to a post in BrainBlogger there have been successful efforts on the part of neuroscientists to successfully alter memories by changing them, deleting them, replacing them with false memories or improving the memories people have stored. Research has shown that manipulation of memory is much easier than was previously thought. Even statements such as “good job your testimony matches that of others” can lead to over-belief in what is being said.
Repetitive questioning, as you might get in a deposition or questioning by police, can “decrease functional connectivity between the cerebellum and cerebral cortex — two brain areas that communicate through polysnynaptic circuits”. Basically it messes with the circuitry that deals with that memory and has the potential to alter those memories. In fact research by the Innocence Project reveals “that 75% of the 270 people exonerated by DNA in the United States were wrongfully convicted by mistaken eyewitness testimony.” If it works that way in criminal cases it can work the same way in civil cases.
Advances in treatment affect memory
Research has shown that treatment in a therapeutic situation can alter memories. People go for treatment to forget bad things and to reduce stress. PTSD is treated in this manner. In the same vein trauma caused by something that occurs as work could cause someone to seek treatment for stress and in the process alter their memory of a work situation.
Science is advancing to the point that “Neuroscientists are getting closer to the day when, as expert witnesses, they will be able to independently and definitively identify if a memory is authentic. Acting as neural detective to identify if a memory has indeed existed, brain imaging can compare subjective versus objective memories and whether they are new or old memories.”
In the meantime
Memory about what happens in a harassment situation, or a discrimination case or even a safety situation is a subject to alteration as it is in a criminal case. In a civil suit however it is unlikely that your attorneys are going to go through the expense of calling neuroscience experts to determine is a plaintiff’s memory has been manipulated or not. The solution to this is to document properly each and every situation. Yeah I know that is a pain in the ass, but writing down what occurred, getting employees to write down what occurred as soon after it occurred may be the best guard against accusations of “false memory.” Waiting to document several weeks after the fact or not even until the lawsuit arrives will make your documentation seem suspect. However, not doing any documentation at all and relying on people’s memories is worse. As an attorney once said to me “I would rather have one page of documentation than have 10,000 words of testimony.” I would add to that I would want one page of documentation that is dated within one day of the incident.
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