How to Effectively Manage Employee Performance Issues

No matter how hard we try, occasionally we have employees who don’t meet performance expectations. This help guide is designed to walk you through the employee discipline best practices, with common obstacles you may face and solutions to deal with them. As always, if you feel that any of the steps contradict rules for your state, please seek counsel with a trusted legal advisor in your state. Additionally, these guidelines may not be applicable to unionized workforces.

My employees are At-Will? What does that mean for effective performance management?

Employees who are at-will are employees that are not covered by an employment contract. This means that either the employer or the employer may end the employment relationship at any time, for any reason or no reason at all, if the reason is not discriminatory. However, even though an employee is at will, you still need to practice effective performance management. That means treating all employees fairly: if you discipline one employee for an offense, you must discipline all employees committing the same offense.

TIP: Document, document, document. Even if an employee is at-will, they’re still protected by anti-discrimination legislation. Make sure you document everything.

I’ve had the same chat over and over with the employee. When do I need to start documenting the issue?

Your company must have a documented policy for how it will handle employee issues, and you must follow it every time. If your company policy says that you will document informal communications, then be sure to document the offense. Sometimes, following up in writing after an informal chat is an effective way to motivating employees to improve. For example, if you meet with employee X about being late to work, send a quick follow up email saying “Dear X, thank you for speaking with me today. I look forward to seeing you on-time to work.”. While not as formal as a written warning, it helps establish the paper trail that you met with the employee.

TIP: Some states, such as Massachusetts, require that you notify employees when you add documentation to their employee fie. Check your state and local laws to ensure you are complying.

I’ve met with this employee so many times about this issue. What do I do next?

If you have tried the informal method of performance improvement, it may be time for a formal performance meeting. This formal face-to-face meeting with the employee will consist of speaking with the employee, and then going over a written warning with the employee.

Your warning should include:

  1. A summary of the issue. Summarize the issue and include examples of when each incident occurred. Be sure to note the impact the issue is having on the company and other employees, but only include factual and objective information.
  2. Reference dates of any prior discussions with the employee.
  3. Provide written performance expectations. Emphasize that you are committed to the employee’s success and outline specific objectives for the employee to meet for them to improve. If available, outline resources, support, and training available for the employee to help them reach their goals.
  4. Provide a written outline of potential consequences for noncompliance. Be sure to explain the consequences for failing to improve, including a disclaimer that this could lead to termination.

TIP: If you would like a template that helps you ensure all your written warnings are consistent, Schick Legal Solutions can help you draft a legally-compliant template.

What if the employee refuses to sign the warning?

Some employees will not sign the warning. If you encounter an employee who will not sign it, explain to them that signing means they confirm receipt of the warning, and not that they agree with it. If they refuse to sign it, make a note on the warning and initial and date the warning before placing it into the employee file.