Performance evaluations can be an effective management tool and can also serve as a means to preventing wrongful discharge and discrimination claims. However, if used improperly, the employee evaluation can lead to costly litigation. A proper evaluation advises the employee whether he or she meets the employer's expectations. On the other hand, a bad evaluation process does not accurately inform employees of deficiencies in their performance and can actually lead the employee and others to believe that the performance is satisfactory or even above expectations. For this reason, an employer should determine what benefit it actually receives from the use of employee evaluations and the effectiveness of how they are being used and if they should be done at all.
The supervisor responsible for completing the evaluation will make the difference between a good evaluation process and a counterproductive one. If the evaluator is honest, timely and forthcoming about the employee's performance, the process will be beneficial by advising employees whether they meet their employer's expectations and allowing them to improve their deficiencies before discipline or termination becomes necessary. However, in many instances, the evaluator will rate employees as "satisfactory" without specific reference to actual performance. This is sometimes due to a lack of training or simply a desire to avoid confronting the employee. In the rush to complete forms and meet competing demands, supervisors may use the same comments for nearly all their employees. If an employee is later terminated for poor job performance, these "satisfactory" evaluations can be used against the employer as evidence of satisfactory job performance. For this reason training on the process and what is expected of the evaluator is extremely important.
Generally, the best approach to the use of employee evaluations is one which incorporates honesty, accuracy and timeliness as a means to communicate the level of performance. Evaluators should rate each employee accurately using an honest evaluation which is reflective of true performance and clearly outlines what will be expected of the employee in the future. They should also discuss the evaluation with the employee in detail, giving them full opportunity to comment, and have them sign that they have been made aware of it. It is also important to use performance evaluations consistently. Any preferential treatment or leniency toward an employee may be cited as evidence of discrimination by a similarly situated, but less favorably treated, employee. Finally, never use an evaluation as a last-minute attempt to document performance problems in order to justify termination. This practice will undoubtedly come back to haunt the employer at a later time.
Lastly, consider using every day coaching as a part of your performance evaluation process. Train your supervisors to give good and bad feedback on a frequent basis, so that no one is blindsided by a bad evaluation. Whatever process you use, keep in mind that it should be used as a means to correct problem behavior before it becomes an issue that will be subject to discipline or termination.
For samples or more information on this or any other personnel related matters contact Andrea Shindlebower.
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