The employment evaluation process can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience for the evaluator and employee. However, when evaluations are done in a candid, consistent and open manner, they can be useful tools that benefit both parties.
They can help the employer make informed decisions about compensation, transfers, promotions and terminations. Performance evaluations also keep the employee informed regarding the employer’s expectations and how the employee’s performance measures against these expectations. Performance evaluations can also prove to be a valuable tool in the litigation context. A performance evaluation that creates a record of an employee’s performance can help to build an excellent defense to an employment discrimination lawsuit, for example.
Since supervisors and managers generally administer performance evaluations, it is essential that they receive the appropriate training and instruction on how to perform an evaluation. Even with an established performance evaluation procedure in place, a manager who ineffectively or incorrectly performs the evaluation can make it useless or harmful to the employer and employee.
Supervisors and managers should be informed about the importance of an employment evaluation. There are several mistakes that managers typically make that can destroy or diminish the value of a performance evaluation. For instance, evaluators sometimes rate an employee’s performance as good or excellent without really considering the employee’s performance. Similarly, evaluators sometimes use the same language on each employee’s evaluation, suggesting that little time or effort was devoted to its completion. Some evaluators try to use the performance evaluation as a motivational tool or morale booster by giving the employee undeservedly high marks, which leads the employee to believe that his or her employment is secure. Thoughtlessly evaluating the employee, using form language in the evaluation or giving the employee undeservedly high marks defeats the purpose of employment evaluations and makes them less valuable or useful (and sometimes even harmful) in the event the employer is sued.
The company should give written instructions regarding performance evaluations to supervisors and managers who evaluate employees. The instructions should:
In addition to written instructions, the employer should provide training for managers and supervisors who will administer performance evaluations. The training should cover the evaluation procedure in detail. Such training should cover:
The training should also address some common mistakes made during the process such as using vague adjectives that inadequately describe performance, giving undeserved praise or avoiding criticism in order to boost employee morale. It is also important that the supervisor or manager know that the employer will not tolerate any unlawful bias or discrimination in the evaluation process.
It may be advisable to require each supervisor or manager who receives a copy of the written instructions to sign an acknowledgment that they have reviewed the performance evaluation instructions and agree to follow them. The acknowledgment should also indicate that the supervisor/manager will be held responsible for conducting the evaluation process.
Performance evaluations should be job specific. A stock evaluation form, while consistent, may be insufficient to address the performance of a particular employee. The evaluation should be based on the tasks described in the job description of the employee (see page 12, Definition of a job description) as well as job-related skills that bear on the employee’s performance. Examples of generally appropriate areas of evaluation include commitment, judgment, initiative, leadership, professionalism and knowledge of the job.
Keep in mind that the traditional adjectives used in evaluation forms such as “satisfactory” or “poor” are sometimes inappropriate. If the company uses a standard evaluation form for all or most of its employees, evaluators should indicate which categories are “not applicable” to a given employee.
Evaluations should be based on job performance, not personality traits. For an evaluation to appropriately help an employee develop, the evaluation cannot be received as an attack on the employee’s personality. Personal attacks on an employee during an evaluation can create a number of potential liabilities for the employer, including, but not limited to, discrimination claims.
It is also important that the evaluation cover all aspects of the employee’s job. An evaluation that does not cover all key functions of a job can make defending the corporation in a subsequent suit difficult. If the employee is fired because of his or her poor performance in an area that is not covered by the performance evaluation, then the employer will have no record of the employee’s poor performance. Even if the employer can show that the employee did a poor job in a specific area without the performance evaluation, it is hard to show that the poor performance was a truly important part of the employee’s job if it is not included in his or her performance evaluation.
To safeguard against bias or stereotyping by an evaluator, the company should create a system that monitors the evaluation process. Human resources or a duly authorized company representative should review all performance evaluations before they are presented to the employees. The evaluation should also be reviewed and approved by one of the evaluator’s superiors, preferably one who is familiar with the person being evaluated or the job duties of that employee. Additional levels of review decrease the likelihood of bias and reinforce the reliability of the evaluation. The employer should be mindful of the processes created by human resources and review those processes occasionally to make sure human resources is effectively evaluating employees.
It is important that performance evaluations be carefully documented. An evaluation is of little use if there is no documented record of it. A consistent system of documentation should be a fundamental step in any performance evaluation procedure.
If performance evaluations are used to make compensation decisions, consider retaining evaluations supporting those compensation decisions indefinitely. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act makes it easier for current and former employees to challenge pay decisions made in the distant past – even those that occurred many years earlier. Maintaining and retaining performance evaluations will help to build a defense to any future lawsuit by showing that the compensation decision was based on performance rather than any bias or stereotype.
Employers may require employees to sign an acknowledgment indicating that he or she has read the evaluation. This prevents the employee from claiming ignorance as to the criteria or results of the evaluation. It also can provide proof of fairness, evidence that the employer has engaged in the interactive process with the employee and can potentially alert the employer to additional problems with the employee.
The employee should also be given the opportunity to write a response to his or her evaluation. This improves employer-employee communication and often creates a record of the employee’s assent to the evaluation. Should the employee refuse to sign his or her evaluation, the manager should note such refusal on the form itself to provide a record that the employee was given a chance to review the evaluation.
The employee should also have the opportunity to agree or disagree with the job criteria for which he or she is evaluated. If the employee agrees with the duties being described, then there can be no dispute regarding the scope of the evaluation. If the employee disagrees with the evaluation, then the employer has the opportunity to change the criteria of the evaluation or reintroduce the employee to the duties of his or her job.
To the extent that performance evaluations are used as an opportunity to motivate an employee to reach some stated goal, acknowledgment of that goal should also be made on the evaluation.
For example, if the supervisor and employee agree that the employee has frequently been late for work and that the employee must work harder to be on time, then the goal of better punctuality should be noted on the evaluation. Goals should be measurable in nature to facilitate ease in future performance reviews.
Though performance evaluations can be helpful in improving employee performance and defending against litigation, they should not be used at all if certain elements of the procedure are missing. Remember, although an employee evaluation is a confidential document, a poorly drafted evaluation can be used by the employee against the employer should the employee file a lawsuit. The following are examples of crucial omissions from the evaluation procedure that render the evaluation useless or even harmful to the employer: