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Tell bosses: Include details in evaluations

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in Firing,Human Resources

Here’s an important reminder for supervisors: Details count at evaluation time, especially if poor performance will lead to a performance improvement plan or even discharge.

Reason: A disgruntled former employee will look for every reason to sue. Being treated less favorably than someone outside his or her protected class may be a sure winner in court.

That’s why managers need to provide exact details about performance problems. You’ll be able to use them later to explain why two poorly performing employees deserved different punishments.

Recent case: Kirby, who is black, worked in a plant that manufactures construction equipment. After he was promoted to a midlevel supervisory role, he quickly found himself facing criticism about his performance. He had trouble keeping production moving, organizing the workplace, managing his subordinates, updating production schedules and handling other basic managerial tasks.

Still, he applied for another promotion. He was not selected. Shortly after, his new supervisor placed him on a performance improvement plan following a negative performance appraisal. Kirby was terminated when he didn’t improve.

He sued, alleging race discrimination. As proof, he pointed to a white manager holding the same job who also received a poor evaluation but kept his job.

But the employer told the court that the two weren’t really comparable because Kirby had a much longer list of workplace problems. It argued that because Kirby was a much worse employee than the white supervisor, it was justified in terminating Kirby alone.

The court agreed. Employers don’t have to fire all poor performers, but can choose to keep those who are marginally better. (Frazier v. Doosan Infracore, No. 11-12060, 11th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Courts don’t want to micromanage employers, but do expect them to document their decisions. Thorough and specific performance appraisals are part of what’s expected.

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