Getting the PIP Process Right: Tips for Employers, Part 1 of 2 Printer friendly format

An employee continues to make mistakes that cost the company money. You meet with her and place her on a performance improvement plan (PIP). After the 60-day PIP period ends, you conclude that her performance did not improve adequately and terminate her employment.

Reaching Goals

The employee files a complaint with the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming that she was discharged because of her age and that similarly situated employees who were not in the protected group and had similar performance problems were treated more favorably than she was. 

The PIP document and process will be either your best friend or your worst enemy in defending the employee’s age bias claim. Let’s talk about how to get it right.
Address Performance Issues Promptly
At the PIP meeting with the employee, you should not hear her say that she had no idea that there were performance problems in the areas addressed by the PIP. A PIP typically should be used when the employee has been previously advised of the performance deficiencies and efforts such as verbal or written counseling have been unsuccessful in addressing the problem. 
For example, if you conduct annual performance evaluations, performance deficiencies should be specifically enumerated in the reviews. Additionally, consider conducting performance evaluations more frequently (e.g., quarterly or semiannually) to provide feedback to employees. As with most HR issues, documentation is critical.
Too often, employers are “Minnesota Nice” in identifying performance deficiencies. If an employee has a performance problem, identify it clearly and do not sugarcoat or understate it. For example, if an employee regularly sends letters or e-mails with errors to clients, the message should not be “everyone makes mistakes; try to be a little more careful.” 
Instead, the message should be that the issue is a serious concern—it affects how clients view the company and the company does not want to be viewed as sloppy. Be direct and discuss the consequences of performance problems. Document all meetings, counseling efforts, and other interactions with the employee regarding the performance concerns.
Specifically Define Performance Deficiencies in the PIP
You have identified performance deficiencies and made efforts to address the problems with the employee, but the issues persist. You conclude that you need to place the employee on a PIP. You sit down, put pen to paper (or keystrokes to computer), and draft the PIP. 
It is critical to define performance problems specifically, not generally. If the problems are typos in documents, errors in phone messages, and mistakes in calendars, specifically identify the issues instead of using general terms such as “poor eye for detail.” As with performance counseling, do not understate the problems in the PIP.
Include a section on past efforts that were made to address the specific problems. The section should include dates of meetings and summaries of what was discussed, references to evaluations in which the performance deficiencies were discussed, and references to other documents you provided the employee in discussing the performance problems.
In identifying performance deficiencies, refer to specific examples of problematic behavior. If the employee left a phone message with an error in the callback number, refer to the incident. Be prepared to discuss the specific incidents related to the employee’s performance deficiencies during the PIP meeting. 
Have copies of relevant documents such as phone messages with errors or letters containing typos. Also, be prepared to discuss the consequences the company or specific employees suffered, or could have suffered, because of the performance deficiencies.
Reprinted with permission from