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If subjective criteria like attitude, leadership and being a team player are part of your organization’s employee evaluations, you’d be wise to keep detailed records of customer complaints.

That way, if an employee later challenges your use of “soft” or subjective evaluation measures, you can pull out the complaints to show how you arrived at your opinion.

Recent case: Al Smith, a black male, was discharged as part of a larger work force reduction (WFR) at Hewlett-Packard (H-P). It was the second WFR the company had conducted in a very short time period; Smith had survived the first.

H-P based its WFR discharge list on supervisor evaluations that included both objective and subjective assessments. Smith was ranked very low in the areas of attitude, customer relations and teamwork skills.

He sued, alleging race discrimination. But H-P backed up its assessment with copies of customer complaints, including a series of e-mails criticizing Smith’s attitude, and evidence that he bad-mouthed other team members to customers. This was ample evidence to back up his supervisor’s conclusions about Smith’s lack of people skills. The case was dismissed. (Smith v. Hewlett-Packard, No. 3:05-CV-1123, ND TX, 2007)  

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