Many employers require periodic reviews of their workers and use these meetings as an opportunity to discuss how well employees are doing their jobs or problems they may be having. Performance reviews can be a productive way to strengthen confidence or to take corrective action, but problems can arise when these reviews are not done properly.
Employee performance reviews, however, can ultimately be used as evidence in lawsuits, so employers, supervisors, and employees should always be honest in their comments. In many cases, the direct supervisor conducts the review and not the business owner. This puts the supervisor in a position of judging the performance of workers face-to-face. This can be awkward and may cause hard feelings that last beyond the meeting, which may affect workplace morale and productivity. Nevertheless, reviews should accurately reflect the quality of employees' work, and the supervisors should not downplay performance problems or give praise for work that does not really deserve it.
Inaccurate reviews can expose an employer to discrimination complaints or lawsuits. For example, if an employee receives tremendous reviews but is subsequently fired, the employee can claim that the termination was the result of something other than poor performance. Adequate documentation of issues with the employee's work performance, however, can prove that discrimination was not a factor.
Beyond the employment relationship, employers can be legally liable for giving past employees bad references. Even when an employee file includes consistently bad reviews, and the employee was terminated for those reasons, sharing this information with a potential employer asking for a reference can generate a lawsuit.
Performance reviews should not be disclosed, especially negative ones, to anyone outside of the company. In order to protect against defamation claims, employers should keep all performance reviews confidential.
The law surrounding employee performance reviews and their role in litigation can be complicated because the facts of each case are unique. For more detailed information about performance reviews, or if you are considering a second look at your performance review policy, please contact an employment lawyer.
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