Every year you get the packet from Human Resources requesting a performance evaluation for one of your subordinates. This is the subordinate you complain about to your spouse, the one who can’t get along with co-workers, comes in late on a regular basis, has a bad attitude in general, or all of the above. And yet, this person has been working for you for seven years. Each year you complete an evaluation and give him four out of five stars, indicating he performs above average. You approve his raise, even though you would really like to fire him. Now, the company is downsizing and needs to terminate some employees in your department and they ask you for recommendations. Easy enough, you pick “that guy.” The problem is he is over 40 years of age. The other person who performs similar work is 35. The 35-year-old does really good work and works hard, but has received similar ratings. How are you going to support your case when the underperformer sues the company for age discrimination?
This scenario is so common and can really cause problems. As a manager or business owner, you need to have the hard conversations with your employees and document the files accordingly. If an employee is not performing or is having issues with insubordination, you need to discuss that with the employee and document it. The discussion and documentation needs to be honest about the problem and the consequences if the behavior continues.
Do not misunderstand: You have the ability to choose one employee over another for termination, as long as you do not make the decision based upon someone’s protected class. However, if the terminated employee sues the company, you need to be able to demonstrate your legitimate reasons for the choice with hard evidence. Think of how it may look to a judge, or jury, if you say “that guy” was not a good employee, but your paperwork shows differently. At that point, you may be stuck taking the stand and explaining why you did not have the hard conversations with him over the last seven years.
Conducting and completing honest and forthright performance evaluations can be difficult. Being a manager is not for sissies.