Your Employer Just Placed You on a PIP- What Now???
By the time you’re placed on a Performance Improvement Plan, chances are that your employer has already decided to terminate you. In this case, the goal isn’t really to improve your work, but to create a paper trail demonstrating poor performance in order to justify firing you. Generally speaking, an “at-will” employee can be terminated at any time for any reason, except an illegal one (discrimination, retaliation, etc.), or for no reason. However, in order to minimize the possibility of being sued for wrongful termination, a company will often try to document a history of poor performance in order to demonstrate the legitimacy of an employee’s termination. One of the most commonly used methods of showing poor performance is to place the employee on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). Regardless of the circumstances, if you’ve been placed on a PIP, you should consult with an employment lawyer right away. An experienced employment attorney can advise you on how to best navigate the PIP process.
So, how do you determine whether your employer is using a PIP as a means to fire you?
Theoretically, a PIP is supposed to give you a fair chance to improve your job performance. But in reality, that’s rarely the case. Review the PIP itself for certain telltale signs that improvement of your performance is not the true objective, including:
- Failure to identify any specific performance deficits in need of improvement.
- Unrealistic goals, the achievement of which are outside your reasonable control with regard to time, resources, general scope of duties, etc.
- Goals that are so vague or ill-defined that regardless of your efforts, your employer could easily claim that you failed to meet them.
- An experienced employment attorney can go through the PIP with you point by point to help shed light on your employer’s possible motives.
What should you do if you suspect that you’ve been placed on a PIP as a means to pave the way for your termination?
Despite the fact that you’re likely hurt and angry at being treated unfairly, try to remain as rational and strategic as possible. If you’re asked to sign a notice, first review the PIP carefully with your attorney, adding your own comments. Note each point you wish to clarify or rebut with your supervisor:
- Document any misleading accounts of your past work performance, noting why they are inaccurate, and ask for modification.
- Ask for clarification on any vague or ill-defined objective, or propose a more concrete goal.
- Document and ask about any goal that appears to be outside the scope of your regular job duties.
- Wherever possible, suggest goals that are objective and quantifiable.
- Where you believe a goal is unrealistic or not reasonably obtainable, explain why.
- Where a goal depends on factors beyond your control, explain these circumstances.
- If you need additional resources or help in achieving the goals in the PIP, ask for them.
- Ask for a frequent feedback schedule (weekly or monthly) on your performance under the PIP.
Be sure to return a copy of the PIP with your notes and comments to your supervisor AND to HR, requesting that it be kept in your personnel file.
Try your best to complete the PIP successfully
Even if you believe the writing’s on the wall that you’re inevitably going to be terminated at the end of your PIP, you still need to do everything possible to show that your job performance had nothing to do with the decision.
Document everything! Your employer is relying on the PIP as part of the paper trail that will be used to fire you. But you can protect yourself by creating your own paper trail. An experienced employment attorney can advise you on how to best document what happens during the PIP period. Such advice may include the following:
- After each feedback session, email your supervisor and HR with a recap of what happened. Make sure to rebut any feedback with which you disagree.
- Document each step you take to comply with the PIP. Also note whether you’re getting the feedback, resources, or other help that you’ve been promised.
- Document any positive feedback you receive, no matter how minor. If the feedback is in an email, print and save it. If it’s verbal, write it down.
- Email regular reports to your supervisor and to HR, documenting your achievement of each goal set forth in your PIP.
Evaluate your case. So, if it has nothing to do with your performance, what is the real reason your employer placed you on a PIP? The critical question is whether there is any evidence that the real reason for your PIP is illegal. Do you suspect that the PIP is just an excuse to get rid of you because of your race, age, disability, filing a worker’s comp or whistleblower claim, complaining about harassment or some other unlawful reason? As experienced employment attorneys, Saluck, Halper and Lehrman can help you assess the situation, navigate your PIP and determine your legal options. If you’ve been placed on a PIP, contact us immediately for a free consultation by calling (800) 961-7884 or emailing us at [email protected].