Jordan Ramis pc. Attorneys at law
Top Ten Tips for Annual Employee Performance Reviews
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This article is intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. It is not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

Fall 2011

Annual employee performance reviews rank right near the top as a supervisor's least favorite task. Because of this and other work demands, it is easy to put off, rush through, or even avoid evaluations altogether.

Employee performance evaluations can be excellent communication tools, but they can also be used against employers as evidence of bias, unlawful discrimination, or retaliation.

When employees know what is expected of them and can gauge how they are performing, they feel respected. Research has shown that employees who work in environments where they feel respected and appreciated have fewer sick days and are more productive.

The following tips are useful in developing and writing evaluations.

Tip #1: Use the same measurement standards and criteria for all employees performing the same job. A thorough analysis of the job will provide criteria for performance evaluation consistent with the job description. In evaluating performance, managers should consider an employee's responsibilities and skills and whether or not identified goals have been met. If an evaluation has a rating system, a negative remark or an exceptional rating should be supported by specific examples.

Tip #2: Give accurate evaluations. Supervisors should not comment on what they do not know for a fact. Employees need to know their personal strengths and areas needing improvement, as well as what is expected.

Tip #3: Take notes throughout the evaluation period. Writing from scratch about a year's worth of events can be a daunting task. Instead, jot down notes on employee performance as occasions arise. This includes occasions when the employee exceeded your expectations as well as those when employee performance could have been better. Your notes don't have to be extensive. Instead, they need only be specific enough to remind you of the event so that you can include it in the evaluation. Also, use an employee's last review as a benchmark standard for the next review. Remember to consider the entire year, not just the last few months or one incident or crisis.

Tip #4: Exercise professionalism in writing and presenting the evaluation. Measure performance, not personality traits. Supervisors should make the evaluation and review process as objective as possible. Address behavior or conduct, not characteristics or personalities. Avoid using terms such as "always," "never," and so forth.

Tip #5: Do not give an overly favorable, inflated evaluation. Evaluations are often scrutinized by the Bureau of Labor and Industries or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when employees file claims of discrimination. Employers defending these claims often assert deficient performance as the reason for the discipline, discharge, or layoff. But if evaluations are inflated, they will appear to be inconsistent with the asserted reason for terminating the employment. Consequently, the credibility of the reason given for discipline will be questioned.

Tip #6: Do not make comments about absenteeism if the absences are protected by law (i.e., workers' compensation time loss, FMLA, or OFLA). These types of comments can be used against employers as evidence of displeasure about employees' engaging in protected activity.

Tip #7: Do not make promises to an employee on the evaluation. Circumstances can and do change beyond a supervisor's control. Unfulfilled promises diminish a supervisor's credibility and in some cases can form the basis for a breach of contract claim.

Tip #8: Do not make inconsistent statements or set unattainable goals. After drafting the evaluation, review it carefully for inconsistencies. Mixed messages will only confuse employees and can prove embarrassing when supervisors are questioned about them. Setting unattainable goals can result in employees' feeling defeated before they begin. A successful employee means a successful supervisor or manager. Attainable goals are a win for everyone.

Tip #9: Do not make remarks about a person's protected status or protected activity. Such remarks can be used against employers to show bias or intent to discriminate. Personal opinion, bias, or feelings should not influence the evaluation.

Tip #10: Do not couple the evaluation with discipline. There should be no surprises during an evaluation conference. Discipline should closely follow the offense. A prior disciplinary matter may, however, be reflected in a rating. If discipline is administered during the meeting, an employee is less likely to listen and comprehend the rest of the information presented.

Employers should not let their anxieties keep them from giving regular evaluations, especially if evaluations are the basis for compensation adjustment. Remember, employees expect to be evaluated. Consider providing spaces on your report for employee comments and action plans for improvement to engage employees in the process, thereby gaining their agreement to focus on improvement. Finally, don't forget to sign and date the evaluation. Evaluations are not very useful in a reduction in force or in defending a claim if the evaluation period and date cannot be identified.