Why Managers MUST Be Honest In Performance Evaluations
Updated: Sep 23
Most people have heard the HR mantra "Document, Document, Document." There are many reasons this is such a common refrain in employment law, as proper documentation can serve as a defense to a number of different legal claims. One area where documentation is particularly important is employee performance evaluations.
Employee performance evaluations are the cornerstone of any successful organization. Not only do they provide valuable feedback to employees, but they also serve as a way for managers to measure progress and identify areas for improvement. However, performance evaluations can also be a source of legal risk if not handled properly. That's why it is crucial for company managers to be honest in employee performance evaluations and document their assessments accurately.
Full honesty is key when it comes to performance evaluations. If a manager exaggerates an employee's abilities or falsely gives them a positive review, it can lead to inflated expectations and potential legal issues down the line. For example, if an employee is consistently receiving high ratings on their performance evaluations but then suddenly gets terminated for poor performance, the employee will often claim discrimination or retaliation.
Being honest can be hard. That's why we pay managers more - to do the hard work. By accurately documenting an employee's performance, managers can mitigate future legal risk and help to protect the company from potential legal consequences.
Here are a few tips for good performance documentation:
NEVER skip doing an employee's annual performance evaluation if there is a company process in place. While some companies are doing away with annual reviews in favor of more frequent evaluations, many companies still have an annual performance evaluation process. It's important to follow this process and not skip any employees, as the act of skipping could be seen as discrimination. Furthermore, since annual reviews are often (but should never be) the one time per year that an employee gets feedback, skipping the opportunity to provide that feedback will make it harder later to terminate the employee for performance concerns, especially if the employee falls into a protected category or makes a complaint.
Be specific in your feedback and ratings. Vague or overly general comments can make it difficult to accurately assess an employee's performance, and can also lead to misunderstandings. Use specific examples and instances where an employee may have excelled or struggled, as such examples can help provide context and justification for any ratings given. Furthermore, it will be much easier to terminate the employment of a poor performing employee if specific issues have been raised and continue to be a problem.
Keep personal biases out of evaluations. It's important for managers to evaluate employees based on job-related criteria rather than personal biases. This means focusing on the employee's actual performance and not their personality or personal characteristics.
Consistently document performance and provide regular feedback. Regular, consistent documentation is much more effective than annual, sporadic or inconsistent records. This means managers should not just provide feedback at annual evaluations, but should consistently document performance issues as they occur. This creates a comprehensive track of an employee's performance, which can be useful in both improving performance and minimizing legal risk.
In addition to legal protection, honesty in performance evaluations fosters a culture of transparency and fairness within the company. Employees who feel that their performance evaluations are fair and accurate will be more likely to trust and respect their managers, leading to increased job satisfaction and retention.
If you'd like to see an example of a company that was doing performance evaluations the right way, see this article.
Honesty in employee performance evaluations is crucial for minimizing legal risk and maintaining a positive work environment. Company managers must prioritize accurate documentation and honest feedback in order to protect both their employees and the company.