By Ronald Guerra
BridgeTower Media Newswires
Annual employee performance reviews rank right near the top as a supervisor’s least favorite task. Because of this and other work demands, evaluations are easy to put off, rush through or even avoid altogether.
Employee performance reviews can be excellent communication tools, but they also can 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.
When developing and writing evaluations, consider the following tips:
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. When evaluating performance, managers should consider an employee’s responsibilities and skills and whether 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.
2. Give accurate evaluations.
Supervisors should not comment on what they do not know as fact. Employees need to know their personal strengths and areas needing improvement, as well as what is expected.
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 expectations as well as when they weren’t met.
Notes don’t need to be extensive, but rather only specific enough to serve as reminders when evaluations take place.
Also, use an employee’s last review as a benchmark standard for the next one. Remember to consider the entire year, and not only the last few months or one incident.
4. Exercise professionalism when writing and presenting the evaluation.
Measure performance, not personality traits. Supervisors should ensure the review process is as objective as possible. Address behavior or conduct, not characteristics or personalities. Avoid using terms such as “always” or “never.”
5. Do not give an overly favorable, inflated evaluation.
Evaluations often are 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 termination of employment. Consequently, the credibility of the reasoning will be questioned.
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’ participation in protected activity.
7. Do not make promises to an employee.
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 claim of breach of contract.
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 good for everyone.
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.
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 they are the basis for compensation adjustment.
Remember, employees expect to be evaluated. Consider providing spaces on your report for employee comments and action plans to engage employees in the process, and thereby gain their agreement to focus on improvement.
Finally, don’t forget to sign and date the evaluation. A review document is not useful in a reduction in force or in a claim defense if the evaluation period and date cannot be identified.
Ronald Guerra practices labor and employment law in Portland, Oregon.