Performance evaluations important in defending employment actions

Posted by Charles Middleton on 02/14/2018

Q: What practical advice can you give Oklahoma organizations in delivering bad news regarding performance?

A: No one likes to deliver bad news, especially when delivering it to a co-worker. Remember, however, being on the other side of the table isn't fun either. The uncomfortable nature of delivering bad news requires a professional and respectful dialogue. Nothing can make a performance review turn ugly more quickly than a supervisor being condescending or demeaning all while informing an employee he or she didn't meet the employer's expectations. Equally important is being truthful. Do not sugarcoat it. It is human nature to avoid conflict. Managers and supervisors are not immune to this. Their inclination in filling out a performance review or delivering the performance ratings is to downplay the trouble areas of the employee. Doing so, however, is a disservice to the employer and can cause legal problems for the employer. The purpose of a performance review is to improve the performance of the employee. Therefore, the employee must know what areas need improvement.

Q: How can a company make performance evaluations an opportunity for growth?

A: First, the employer needs to let the employee know that it's invested in the employee and wants the employee to succeed. A great way to do that is to implement the above advice: Be respectful and truthful during the performance evaluation. Second, the employer needs to provide the employee with real-life examples of the employee's shortcomings. If the employee failed to meet his or her supervisor's expectations on a project, point out the portion(s) that were unsuccessful and offer advice on how to correct it moving forward. Third, the employer needs to provide ongoing evaluation of the employee. It doesn't do the employer or the employee any good if the employee only hears he or she is not meeting expectations at the end of the year. Improvement throughout the year will make for a better employee and a happy employer.

Q: What legally sensitive areas might require careful approach?

A: An employer must recognize the importance of performance evaluations in defending employment actions. Most employees are terminated for performance issues. If the employer hasn't truthfully rated the employee's performance, a later disciplinary action based on poor performance will be viewed with some skepticism. Inflated performance ratings can make defending a termination based on performance problematic. Moreover, an employer should always be aware of other factors that may have impacted an employee's performance. For instance, an employee may have missed a lot of work in the past year. If missing work was in part due to a health issue, it should be considered when filling out the performance evaluation. Similarly, if an employee is on protected leave (e.g., Family Medical Leave Act or Workers' Compensation) at the time of his or her performance evaluation, the employer should consider whether postponing the performance review until the employee returns from leave is appropriate.


Published The Oklahoman, February 14, 2018