HR Management & Compliance

Documenting Employee Performance—Avoid These 10 Mistakes

In yesterday’s Advisor, Attorney Susan G. Fentin demonstrated how to make appraisals work for you (and not against you in court). Today, we present Fentin’s top 10 mistakes employers make when documenting employee performance.

Fentin, a partner at the Springfield, Massachusetts, office of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., offered her tips at BLR’s Advanced Employment Issues Symposium, held recently in Las Vegas.

Fentin’s Top 10 Appraisal Mistakes

10. Forgetting an audience—who will read the document?
9. “Cut and paste”—it’s too easy to make embarrassing mistakes, and it’s not likely to generate meaningful results.
8. Bad timing—stick to the schedule or it appears that appraisals are not important.
7. Dishonest evaluations—a “satisfactory” rating of a poor performer will come back to bite you.
6. Misuse of a Performance Improvement Program—it’s not discipline.
5. Using legalese and jargon—this won’t help in front of a jury, and it may be incomprehensible to any outsiders.
4. Confusing directives—make it abundantly clear what is required for each goal.
3. Numerical rating without commentary—this is hard to explain and justify.
2. Inconsistent application of standards—this will end up supporting a lawsuit.
1. No supporting documentation—claims made on the appraisal should be supported.


Employees’ financial situations affect employers as well. Learn how to steer your workforce toward financial literacy in the free best practices report, Money Smarts: Helping Employees Make the Grade. Download Here


Why Else Do Performance Appraisals Fail?

  • Poor preparation by managers.
  • Dropping a “bomb”—the person being appraised was never informed about poor performance or the need to improve.
  • Mixed messages in delivery.
  • Friends vs. supervisor/subordinate—it’s a tricky tightrope.
  • Only just before termination—this looks suspicious.
  • Sugarcoated—“Your performance could be improved” (Was it great and could be improved a little? Or terrible and could be improved a lot?)
  • Not consistently provided.
  • All employees get the same level of reviews.
  • “Merit” raises for poor performance.
  • Sudden change in rating after long history of good performance.
  • Goals and expectations not clear or realistic.
  • Reviewer concerned about confrontation; downplays problems.
  • Performance measured in abstract terms (attitude, motivation, dependability).

How else might poor appraisals come back to bite you? Fentin outlines a number of possibilities:

  • Discrimination
  • Harassment if a good review is offered in exchange for sexual favors
  • Layoff—when number rankings without anecdotal information are used to select individuals for layoff
  • Discrimination if there is a reference to FMLA leave or ADA accommodation (or anything related to employee’s physical or mental condition) in the review

Is there a danger of defamation charge? Not usually, says Fentin, because the appraisal is a privileged communication and is not published.

There’s a good chance that in the course of appraisals, you’ve come across situations where you know the employee can do better, but they seem distracted. While there are numerous personal crises that an employee could be grappling with, financial problems are a particularly prominent issue today. 36 percent of employees don’t have at least $2,000 in emergency savings, 61 percent don’t have a budget, and 61 percent failed a basic financial literacy test.

Seven out of 10 HR professionals indicated that personal financial challenges have “a large” or “some” impact on overall employee performance. However, employers can help—by incorporating a financial wellness education program into their benefits package. How to get there? Start with the free white paper from Purchasing Power, Money Smarts: Helping Employees Make the Grade.

Download Here


Is financial wellness an issue among your employees? Download the free best practices report, Money Smarts: Helping Employees Make the Grade. Learn More


With the right tools and education, employees can face their personal finances with confidence. This best practices report is a great first step towards helping employees develop peace of mind when it comes to money—and keep them focused and engaged while on the job.

You’ll learn:

  • Why financial literacy is an urgent concern
  • What is included in a financial education program
  • How to incorporate financial wellness into your benefits package
  • And much more!

Download Now