Laptop Screen Depicting a Performance Improvement Plan from an Employer

A Performance Improvement Plan or Documenting Your Exit?

Have you been put on an employee performance improvement plan coming out of the blue despite your positive reviews? If so, you’re probably wondering what to do.

At Gardner Employment Law, we know how to navigate these precarious waters.  We have helped many clients get back on an even keel.  If you have been placed on a performance improvement plan and fear that your job is on the line, give us a call.

What is a Performance Improvement Plan?

A performance improvement plan, or PIP, is a formal document that outlines ways in which employees can improve their work performance. Effective performance improvement plans are a way for a manager and employee to rationally implement an “action plan” to address performance issues. As we explained in Performance Improvement Plan, employees at all levels occasionally fail to perform as they should. Good managers help by discussing the deficiencies with the employee.  ​​

This process should be reciprocal. Discussing performance with your manager can give you an opportunity to raise obstacles that are preventing you from performing better.  This could be lack of needed equipment or not enough time given to complete projects in a quality manner.  Performance managers who truly want to help you improve will listen when you state your position.

A typical performance plan will outline what constitutes acceptable performance levels, procedures you must follow, constructive feedback on past performance, and clearly stated disciplinary action if you fail to follow through (such as termination or demotion). Managers typically will review your work and discuss the status of your PIP over  30, 60, or 90 days. The length depends on the time frame necessary for an employee to improve their performance.

Should You Worry If Placed on a Performance Improvement Plan?

Most employers use PIP’s to help employees with good potential or who have performed well in the past to correct significant shortcomings.  Some managers, however, use a PIP as a way to document your exit from the company. This is usually done to avoid any potential wrongful termination claims. Not every performance improvement plan is a bad omen, but it can be.

The PIP process is bound to make any employee feel confused, but especially if you feel that you do not have poor performance. If you are put on a PIP that came out of the blue with no discussion or is next to impossible to perform, that could be a red flag.  If that is the case, it could be a sign that someone at the company wants to get rid of you.

What Should You Do if You Are on a Performance Improvement Plan?

While there are some benefits to performance improvement plans, it is definitely a “wake up call” that you should take action. Know that all hope is not lost and there is definitely the potential for you to turn your performance – and your employer’s perception of you – around. But you must act quickly and take your PIP seriously, otherwise you may end up out of a job.

Likely an HR person will go over the PIP with you.  Just listen and ask questions to be clear on what all of the words mean. Then study the PIP on your own.  Figure out how feasible the PIP is for you to follow. Do not miss any deadlines assigned. Make sure that your manager can observe that you are making a conscientious effort.   You may even want to observe how another team member performs the same or similar task, although you should not disclose to your colleagues that you’ve been put on a PIP.  That information is personal and confidential.

If the PIP seems unreasonable, you should approach your direct supervisor to discuss the issue.  Be courteous and professional, but be direct in explaining why the PIP seems impossible to perform, or whatever the problem is with the PIP.

If your supervisor will not discuss the problem with you, you may benefit from the advice of a good employment lawyer who has experience in handling PIP issues. You need someone “in your corner,” someone who is objective. Do not let the situation continue to grow worse.

Is a Performance Improvement Plan Bad?

As the Society for Human Resource Management writes, the outcomes of PIPs include: “improvement in overall performance; the recognition of a skills or training gap; or possible employment actions such as a transfer, demotion or termination.” Ideally, the manager and HR department wants to help improve the employee’s performance. This is the goal of a genuine PIP, to help employees to see problems that might not have been apparent to them. If this goal is achieved and the employee becomes more productive, this is a “win-win” for both the employee and the employer.

Is a Performance Improvement Plan Required Before Terminating an Employee?

The short answer is “no.” In fact, a performance improvement plan is essentially a tool used to help the employee to correct a pattern of poor performance. According to Texas law, the general rule of employment is that you are “at-will.” This means that your employment is subject to termination at any time. A PIP,  performance review, or document of any kind is not required. Although, note that this “at-will” employment does not include unlawful reasons for termination, such as discrimination.

Contact Us

It is imperative that you are objective and proactive when you are put on a performance improvement plan that doesn’t make any sense or is impossible to perform. At Gardner Employment Law, we can help you develop a strategy to address and resolve the situation.

Do not handle this alone. Know that there is a solution within reach. Contact us if you need someone on your side.

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