Sally’s job performance had been slipping. The boss grumbled but did nothing. Recently, she missed an important deadline that cost the company a contract. She used the ‘excuse’ that she was often distracted by her home situation because, as the employer knew, she had to look after her elderly mother with progressive dementia. The boss didn’t buy it and she was fired for poor performance.
Joan’s work was first rate. She was up to any challenge. The boss and the clients loved her and she was a real asset to the company with a bright future, which everybody just assumed she knew. Then she quit to work for a competitor and many of the clients followed her out the door.
In neither case did the company do regular employee performance appraisals. And in both cases it cost them.
Sally sued for wrongful dismissal and won. The company was unable to document her “increasingly poor performance” leading up to her dismissal and, even worse, was unable to show that there had been any warnings or counselling or any progressive discipline before she was fired for that “one incident”. She testified that her boss was irritable and unapproachable and made snide comments all the time. She also successfully brought a human rights complaint against the employer because the company had failed to accommodate her family situation and therefore had discriminated against on grounds of her family status. All told, with legal fees and damages, the cost to the employer was well in the six figure range.
If Sally had had regular performance appraisals not only would the employer have a record of her deteriorating performance and their efforts to help her improve it but they would likely have been made aware of her home situation. Human rights tribunals across the country are increasingly placing an onus on the employer, once they are aware of a potential human rights issue, to explore that with the employee and discuss accommodation. A routine performance review would have provided that opportunity.
The failure of Joan’s employer to have regular performance appraisals meant that it missed the opportunity to tell Joan how great she was doing, to thank her for her efforts and to discuss her future with the company. Instead, she felt taken for granted and that her accomplishments were unnoticed and unappreciated. She was particularly disappointed that the company never asked for her input on what they could do to be a better employer. When the competitor offered a more progressive employment package that included support for employee growth and development (based on regular reviews) she was off like a shot.
Performance reviews do not need to be a torment – for either the employee or the manager. Performance appraisal forms should avoid ‘check boxes’. They should permit both the manager and the employee to give a narrative answer, without the incessant ‘excellent, good, fair, poor’ categories or their numerical equivalents.
The purpose of these reviews is twofold. They provide an opportunity for the manager to give feedback – both positive and negative – so that the employee knows where they stand, good and bad. And they give both parties an opportunity to look towards the future in a constructive and mutually beneficial way.
It is legally very risky indeed for an employer not to have regular performance reviews with all of their employees. It is equally risky for employees to work for such an employer.
Regular performance reviews should, of course, be tied to a currently updated company employment policy. But that’s another topic.
*Michael Coyle is an experienced employment and human rights lawyer based in Kentville, Nova Scotia. Information and opinion expressed in this article is meant for general interest only and is not a substitute for legal advice about your own situation. Michael can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information and tips, visit his website at www.michaelcoyle.ca
©Michael V. Coyle, 2012