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Warn bosses about personal liability risk

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

You want employees to receive fair and valuable evaluations that commend good work and suggest ways to improve. That benefits everyone in your organization.

But if a supervisor has an ax to grind with a subordinate, he or she might come down hard on the employee or even cross the line into providing false information.

If that evaluation then becomes the basis for discharge or other discipline, the employee may end up suing the supervisor personally under North Carolina law.

Remind supervisors that the integrity of the performance evaluation process depends on their honest assessment. Providing anything less may mean a court date and personal liability.

Recent case: Gaston College declined to renew the employment contract of Peggy, who is black, after she got a negative performance review from a new supervisor.

She sued the supervisor, alleging that she had interfered with Peggy’s right to contract in violation of North Carolina law. Peggy claimed her last evaluation included false and misleading information intended to interfere with the contract renewal, and that after the evaluation was finalized, her contract was not, in fact, renewed.

The court said she had enough evidence to go to trial. If a supervisor essentially lies in an evaluation in order to get rid of an employee, that action interferes with the employee’s contractual relationship with the employer. That’s true whether there is a formal contract or not. (Oates v. Gaston College, et al., No. 3:12-CV-853, WD NC, 2013)

Final note: Performance reviews should focus on as many concrete, objective factors as possible and leave out more subjective elements. Stick with numbers, percentages and concrete goals as much as possible. That makes it harder for bias to creep in and contaminate the process.

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