Documentation of performance evaluations can easily become evidence against an employer in a trial, such as a wrongful termination case or a discrimination case. This fact underlines the importance of ensuring that managers and supervisors understand the legal ramifications of what goes on the record. These personnel files and performance reviews could just as easily be used as evidence defending the employer if done correctly and consistently.
One of the ways to help ensure that your performance evaluations and related documentation are done consistently is to perform audits.
“It’s been my experience over the years that one of the advantages in doing proper documentation is that as you implement better practices with respect to documentation, you will, in all likelihood, discover that you have some issues in your current documentation. That is both a benefit and a risk. The benefit is that you see the problems before the plaintiff’s lawyer does, and that gives you an opportunity to address it.” Ann Bowden-Hollis outlined in a recent BLR webinar.
Documentation of Performance Evaluations
One area that some companies need help with is the documentation associated with performance evaluations. This documentation can easily become evidence. One of the biggest risks is managers who do not document performance issues, but then later take employment actions on issues that were never documented.
This often happens with managers or supervisors who are simply trying to avoid confrontation. If one of their employees needs disciplinary action or even termination, the documentation of good performance will tell the opposite story. This will create a situation where the employee could have evidence pointing toward either discrimination, retaliation, or some other form of wrongful termination.
“If you are a company large enough to have an HR department, I do think it is a good idea that there be HR review of evaluations before they’re presented to the employee.” Bowden-Hollis advised. This gives the employer the chance to catch problems before they’re on the record.
Another piece of advice is to be sure to train supervisors before they prepare performance evaluations. Many companies don’t have training for supervisors on what should and should not be in a performance evaluation, nor on all of the reasons why it is important to be fair, accurate, and consistent. With this training, and training on how to avoid discriminatory language, the employer can help to avoid the situation described above where the performance evaluation is used against it.
For more information on the proper documentation of performance evaluations, order the webinar recording of “Employment Documentation: Avoid Costly Mistakes with Defensible Drafting Strategies.” To register for a future webinar, visit http://store.blr.com/events/webinars.
Ann Bowden-Hollis is an attorney in the Gulf Coast office of Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada, PLLC, where she provides her clients with employment compliance counseling and training, business and contractual analysis, and problem-solving guidance.