Performance Evaluations Can Pose Trouble for Employers

It’s that time of year again. You know the one. Supervisors hurriedly completing performance evaluations at the last minute to avoid nasty emails from the HR Department about missed deadlines. Sound familiar? If so, your company may be doing more harm than good. Evaluations are not a time for hurried compliance. These documents are important feedback tools and could be critical pieces of evidence in employment litigation. It is better to do nothing than to create an evaluation that paints a false picture of an employee’s performance.

So, what are some best practices?

  1. Quality over quantity. Evaluations don’t need to be 10 pages long. Short and to the point is better, especially if that format allows the author to provide some specific examples to support the assessment.
  2. Avoid evaluation inflation. What does “exceeds expectations” mean if it is third from the top and right above “average?” To a jury it means the employee is doing a good job, but in your organization it might mean that the employee is one step from being fired.
  3. Be specific. Multiple choice rankings work well in large organizations because managers do not like to write narratives, and the rankings allow the accumulation of data that can be useful in establishing trends and metrics. That said, every evaluation should have some narrative! Give examples of what the employee did well, or not so well, and some feedback on how to improve.
  4. Evaluate the Evaluator. HR has an important role in ensuring that evaluations are done correctly. That means more than just the mere fact they are completed on time. If a supervisor is giving everyone in his or her department high or low marks, that should raise questions. Similarly, if there is an employee whom everyone knows is having trouble, the evaluation should reflect those problems.
  5. Delivery is Key. Lastly, the paper evaluation is only half of the process. Delivering the message is equally important and should not be overlooked. Make time to have a meaningful meeting and not just a five-minute conversation. Reviews should include both praise and constructive feedback on areas for improvement. Ask the employee to provide his or her views on strengths and weaknesses. Many times they will identify the same weaknesses, which softens the blow.

The holidays are a busy and stressful time for everyone. Many companies have moved away from evaluations at the end of the year for this reason, but if not, it is important for this consequential process not to get lost in the shuffle. Supervisors must understand the significance of the process, and the need for both consistency and fairness. Sugarcoating helps no one, and giving everyone high marks diminishes the performance of the organization’s super stars. Balancing all of these interests is critical to creating a successful process that measures and rewards performance, and also protects the integrity of the process in case the company is forced to justify its decisions in litigation.

David Barron

David L. Barron is a member in the Cozen O'Connor - Houston office, focusing his litigation practice on labor and employment law. David joined the firm in 2011. David assists his clients with all their labor and employment needs including representing clients at trials involving wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, collective action overtime claims and whistle-blower suits, before a variety of state and federal courts. He counsels clients on labor negotiations, elections, strikes, and corporate campaigns by unions; litigates disputes before the National Labor Relations Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Department of Labor; and advises management on various employment issues, including wage and hour, federal contractor compliance, employee terminations, discrimination and harassment claims, drafting and enforcement of noncompete agreements, Sarbanes Oxley, and OSHA matters. David has been quoted on employment law topics by the Houston Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Texas Lawyer,, and numerous other newspapers and magazines. He also has appeared as an employment law professional on talk radio and the local CBS and Fox affiliates in Houston. David is board certified in Labor and Employment law and has been named a Texas Super Lawyer Rising Star in Texas Monthly magazine. David attended the University of Houston, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1994. He then earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center in 1996.

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