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Performance Appraisals

Evaluations have two common purposes:

1) To help employees improve their performances; and

2) To protect employers from false claims by former employees.

To achieve both ends thoroughly and objectively evaluate each employee at least twice a year and more often if an employee is experiencing serious problems. Take the evaluation process seriously and do a careful conscientious job. In some states employees have successfully sued employers who used poor evaluation procedures for "negligent evaluation" the failure of the employer to review employees' work fully and honestly and to warn employees that they faced discipline or discharge if they failed to improve.

The Evaluation Process

To keep the evaluation process as consistent and objective as possible devise an evaluation form that you can use with all employees in the same job category. (See sample.) The form should focus on how well the employee has performed the various duties of the job.

Fill in the form before you meet with the employee. Consider these guidelines.

Give a balanced picture of the employee's strengths and weaknesses.

Use specific examples of where the employee has met expectations or has exceeded or fallen short of expectations.

Let the employee know the areas in which he or she must improve. Set objective goals for the employee to meet.

Where an employee's performance is substantially below par set a date to meet again with the employee to review his or her progress.

If the employee's failure to improve may lead to disciplinary measures or discharge state his clearly in the evaluation.

Leave space on the form for employee comment’s on the evaluation and acknowledge receiving a copy of it.

Once you've completed the written evaluation meet with the employee to go over it and to make sure the employee understands it. If you cringe at confronting an employee with criticism try the sandwich approach: say something positive something negative then something positive.

Benefits of Evaluations

Evaluating employees periodically gives them a chance to improve if they're not performing well. If you later find it necessary to discipline or fire an employee it won't come as a surprise to the employee.

By putting your evaluations in writing and saving them in the employee's file you normally have a credible history of documented problems you can use if an employee claims that he or she was fired for an illegal reason. Legally you don't have to have a good reason or any reason to fire an at will employee and you don't have to give notice in advance or afford the employee a chance to improve.

However an employee who is fired may claim for example that the firing was based on illegal discrimination so it's not wise to rely solely on your legal right to fire an employee.

You want to stand ready to rebut any possible claim that you fired an employee for an illegal reason such as discrimination based on race or sex. The best way to do this is to preserve in written evaluations and other documents the good reasons you relied on to fire the employee.

Example: Charlotte works at the counter of Parts Plus, a retailer of auto parts. Parts Plus fired Charlotte after she's been there for 18 months. Charlotte sues, claiming that Parts Plus fired her in retaliation for complaining to a state agency about photos of nude women that were posted in the back room where she had to go to retrieve auto parts for customers. At trial, Parts Plus produces copies of written evaluations from Charlotte’s file.

Eight months before the firing, Charlotte's supervisor had written: "You must become more familiar with our inventory of parts for imported cars. Also, you need to make fewer errors on the computer system."

Two months before the firing, the supervisor had written: "You're still having problems with imports. We will arrange for you to attend a computer training seminar at the community college at company expense, but you must improve your performance. "

Company records separately show that Charlotte attended only one of the six training sessions and that two days before the firing, she mixed up orders for three good customers. The upshot: Because of its thorough documentation of Charlotte's ongoing problems, the judge dismisses Charlotte's case against Parts Plus.

Remember too that employees will find it easier to accept criticism and try to improve their behavior if you focus on workplace performance and not on the employee's personality. The overall tone of the evaluation should of course be as positive as possible because you want the employee to feel motivated rather than resentful.

Whatever your approach you must tell it like it is. Should you later have legal trouble initiated by a fired employee a judge or jury won't look at your evaluations in a vacuum. For example they'll sense that something is wrong if you consistently rate a worker's performance as poor or mediocre but continue to hand out generous raises or perhaps even promote the person. The logical conclusion: you didn't take seriously the criticisms in your evaluation report so you shouldn't expect the employee to take them seriously either.

Just as damaging is to give an employee glowing praise in report after report perhaps to make the employee feel good and then to fire the employee for a single infraction. That strikes most people as unfair. And unfair employers often lose court fights especially in situations where a sympathetic employee appears to have been treated harshly.

If your system is working employees with excellent evaluations should not need to be fired for poor performance. And employees with poor performance shouldn't be getting big raises.

Once Is Not Enough

Feedback should be an ongoing process. The written evaluation should be a culmination of the feedback you've given throughout the year. Your goal is to have no surprises about how an employee is doing. It's perfectly appropriate too to give an employee a written warning between evaluations if the employee is in jeopardy of being disciplined or fired. A copy of course should go in the employee's file.

Sample Employee Evaluation Form

Some employers encourage employees to give their own evaluation of how they're doing and may also ask employees to rate their supervisors. You'll benefit by making the evaluation process a two-way street. Listen carefully to what the employees say. You'll likely learn a thing or two.

Disciplining Employees

Periodic evaluations can work hand in hand with another management strategy - progressive discipline - to keep employees fairly informed of how they're doing and when their jobs are at risk. Since losing a job can obviously be painful for an employee some employers make it a practice to fire problem employees only after the workers have gone through a series of less drastic disciplinary moves. A system of progressive discipline may not be right for all businesses particularly smaller ones. But if you do see fit to have such a policy in place it can go a long way toward demonstrating your fairness if you eventually have to fire an employee and the employee sues you.

Among the steps you can build into your program are: verbal warnings written warnings counseling probation suspension and finally dismissal. A fired employee's potential wrongful termination claim will be weakened if you can show that the employee knew about the problems that eventually led to dismissal but he or she muffed repeated opportunities to shape up.

If you follow this approach and generally practice a policy of progressive discipline make it clear to employees that you reserve the right to fire employees at will especially for serious infractions and that your policy of progressive discipline is left to your discretion as an employer.

 Sample Employee Evaluation Form

The following form can be adapted to your needs to meet your personal style the set-up of your workplace and the type of work you do.

Sample Performance Appraisals

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Sample 1

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Sample 2

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