HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Performance management

9 Tips for Dealing with Poor Performers

Many employers have supervised an employee who fails to meet sales targets, produces shoddy work, or who simply can’t get to work on time. While these employees may be difficult to manage, we can help you address poor performance effectively.

The following are some frequently asked questions about handling poor performers:

Question #1: Do we have to give poor performers an opportunity to improve? If so, how much time should we give them?

A: It is a best practice to monitor employee performance closely, provide frequent feedback, and intervene promptly when a performance issue arises. Generally, you should give poor performers a reasonable opportunity to improve. Depending on the circumstances, employers typically put employees on a 30, 60, or 90 day performance improvement plan.

Question #2: We have an employee whose performance has declined. What should we do?

A: Once you identify that a performance issue exists, address it promptly. Schedule a face-to-face meeting with the employee in a private, closed-door location. During the meeting:

  • Discuss the performance issue. Provide specific examples and explain the impact the poor performance has on the company.
  • Summarize your performance expectations, and emphasize that you are committed to the employee’s success.
  • Outline the steps the employee needs to take to improve their performance and provide the employee with a time frame to do so.
  • Identify the resources, support, and training opportunities available to help the employee succeed.
  • Explain the consequences for failing to improve.
  • Document the meeting, including all performance expectations, steps to improve and resources to help.
  • Ask the employee to acknowledge their understanding of the meeting by signing the performance plan.
  • Provide a copy to the employee and store another copy in his or her personnel file.
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting to review progress.

Question #3: What can I do if an employee refuses to sign a performance record?

A: Explain that the purpose of the signature is to confirm that the employee received the information, not that he or she necessarily agrees with it. Give the employee an opportunity to provide a written statement if they disagree with the performance review or warning. If the employee still refuses to sign, note that on the performance record and then date it.

Question #4: During a performance meeting, the employee said he has a disability that is causing performance issues. What are the next steps?

A: As soon as an employer becomes aware that a disability may be causing performance issues, the employer must begin an “interactive process” with the employee. (Note: An employee does not need to use the term "disability" in order to initiate this process.) During this dialogue, discuss how the disability impacts performance and what accommodations may help the employee perform the essential functions of his job. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment to the work environment or the way the job is done, that enables the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.

Note: The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees, but many states have similar laws that apply to smaller employers.

Question #5: An employee was out on leave and missed a few performance targets. How should we handle it?

A: Various federal, state, and local laws provide job-protected leave to employees. If an employee takes leave under one of these laws, the employer may only consider the time the employee actually worked when evaluating performance. Adjust performance expectations to account for the leave. For example, if an employee is expected to make 100 sales within 6 months, but takes 3 months of job-protected leave, his or her sales target should be reduced to 50.

Question #6: It is obvious that one employee is a poor performer but he continually receives positive performance reviews. What should we do?

A: Employers should use performance reviews to drive and inform employment decisions. If the reviews aren’t accurate, your company may make poor decisions about who to promote or terminate. Those decisions may be hard to defend if they are ever challenged. Train supervisors on the importance of accurate, objective performance ratings and hold them accountable for following the process consistently. Additionally, have checks and balances in place where performance evaluations are reviewed by upper management or human resources.

Question #7: We have tried all reasonable measures to improve an employee’s performance. If we terminate him now, will he be eligible for unemployment benefits?

A: Unemployment eligibility rules vary by state, but in many cases, employees who are terminated for poor performance will be eligible for unemployment benefits. Typically, employees are only ineligible for unemployment benefits in cases of voluntary separation or gross misconduct.

Question #8: An employee’s performance has improved. How can we keep her on track?

A: Employees who are engaged and motivated are typically more likely to perform well. To motivate your workforce consider:

  • Recognizing good work
  • Providing challenging work assignments
  • Giving employees autonomy in how they complete tasks
  • Assigning teams to work on important projects
  • Offering career development and coaching opportunities
  • Aligning individual goals with overall company goals
  • Maintaining regular and open communication

Question #9: How can my company avoid hiring poor performers in the first place?

A: An effective hiring process can help weed out poor performers. During interviews, ask candidates to share past experiences handling specific work challenges—those they'll likely encounter working for you. Inconsistencies discovered during interviews or on applications and resumes could reflect attempts to cover up poor performance or inflate job skills or experience. Additionally, conduct reference checks to verify job-related information provided by the candidate, and if possible, his or her performance history.

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