Employees often ask us what being put on a performance improvement plan – aka PIP – really means and how to proceed. Is it a sign that termination is imminent, or is an authentic effort to help correct course? Do I sign it? Can I fight it?
While the answer to those questions depends on the employer and the individual situation, here are five issues to consider in every case.
1. Review the Plan
A PIP should provide you with a clear explanation of expectations, what you need to improve, what steps you can take to make these improvements, how to measure success, as well as a clear timeline, including progress check-ins, in which to complete the plan. For example, stating you must improve by being on time everyday or meeting project deadlines is clear, achievable, and measurable. Saying you need to “improve your attitude” is not.
If it is unclear to you what success looks like or how it will be measured under the PIP, then you need to raise the issue immediately with your employer.
2. Sign It
Your initial instinct likely will be to refuse to sign the PIP, especially if you disagree with its content. You’ll need to override this instinct, however, because not signing it could backfire. For example, your employer could use your refusal as a sign of insubordination and grounds for termination.
Keep in mind, signing the document is only acknowledging you received it – not that you agree with it. Some PIP forms have this clearly stated in a clause near your signature. If yours doesn’t, write it in. You also can note you intend to submit a rebuttal or protest to the document.
3. Seek Counsel
If you believe that your PIP is retaliatory or otherwise based on illegal reasons, consider seeking legal counsel. We provide confidential consultations and focus on giving a voice to employees.
4. Document Your Response
If you disagree with the performance assessment, you have the right to protest it – and make sure you do so in writing, in a professional and concise manner. If you question your boss’s motives, be sure to report this, especially if you believe the motives are unethical or illegal.
Date and submit your response to your supervisor and HR representative in hard copy and, if possible, electronically. Also, some companies have formal polices to appeal or challenge PIPs – consult the employee handbook or ask your HR representative to learn if yours does.
5. Decide What’s Best for You
Being presented with a PIP signals a good time to reflect on whether you have – or want – a long-term future with your employer. If you would prefer to pursue an early exit strategy, ask if your employer is willing to negotiate mutually agreeable terms for ending the employment relationship, such as a severance package.