A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a document provided to an employee by their employer to help the employee improve their performance at work, and/or to document evidence of employee misconduct or poor performance.

A PIP highlights:

  • employer expectations of the employee,
  • how the employee is failing to meet those expectations, and
  • how the employee can solve performance problems.

A PIP is not a disciplinary action, but if an employee fails to improve after receiving a PIP, disciplinary action and even termination could follow. Employees should consider a PIP a strong warning.

Does a Performance Improvement Plan help employees?

A thoughtfully prepared Performance Improvement Plan can help employees to improve their performance in the workplace by clarifying employer expectations—such as specific objectives and a reasonable timeline. It can also pinpoint problems and provide a clear plan of action the employee can follow to meet the employer’s expectations.

A PIP can be an effective tool to motivate an employee because it also details the undesirable consequences of failing to improve, such as termination. The PIP serves as a warning.

When should a Performance Improvement Plan be implemented?

A Performance Improvement Plan is one step in a disciplinary process, but it shouldn’t be used in every deficient performance scenario. For example, a one-time failure doesn’t warrant a PIP, but repeated and ongoing poor performance may improve with a PIP.

When the issue is more about an employee’s behaviour (such as discrimination or unlawful conduct) than their work performance, a PIP is not the best course of action. Egregious misconduct is typically cause for immediate termination without a lengthy progressive disciplinary process.

Before an employer issues a PIP, ensure the employee understands your expectations. Try to improve performance with a verbal reprimand first, a written reprimand next, and then consider a Performance Improvement Plan.

PIPs are most effective when they’re used to empower employees to improve their own performance and overcome roadblocks. Employees with a work history of effective performance are more likely to implement the recommendations of a PIP, whereas employees with a history of failing to respond to correction and poor performance are less likely to benefit from a PIP.

How should a Performance Improvement Plan be implemented?

A Performance Improvement Plan should be drafted using precise, unbiased language that’s genuinely helpful. Remember that a PIP is not a disciplinary action but an effort to revitalize an employee. The goal is to provide a clear process and helpful tools to empower the employee to improve.

The Performance Improvement Plan should include:

  • The employer’s expectations of the employee—the employee’s role or job position, duties, and measurable performance targets
  • The specific areas of performance the employee needs to improve
  • Specific, measurable, and realistic ways the employee can improve
  • Resources the employer will provide to help, including support, mentorship, and training
  • Scheduled meetings for follow-up and tracking progress
  • An appropriate duration for the PIP (typically 1-3 months)
  • Consequences of failing to meet the objectives, such as demotion, suspension, or termination with cause (i.e. without severance)

The PIP should be presented to the employee in a private meeting near the end of the work day and not near a major deadline. During this meeting, accept their feedback regarding the obstacles they’re facing. They may have identified a need for additional training or support, in which case the employer should provide those needs as soon as possible.

Throughout the implementation of the PIP, keep detailed records of the employee’s performance, including dates and examples. This allows you to track progress or deterioration, and equip you for whatever next steps are required.

Have an employment lawyer review your PIP before presenting it to an employee. The employment lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates can help. Contact us today.

Performance Improvement Plans & Termination

Some employers use a PIP to build a case for just cause termination, which requires evidence of employee wrongdoing. In a wrongful termination lawsuit, a PIP can be a crucial piece of evidence that shows cause for dismissal and the employer’s attempt at progressive discipline to resolve the issue.

Note that a PIP does not always lead to an employer’s success in proving just cause for termination. A judge examines all the facts and various factors in determining just cause.

In Canada, the courts support employees and make it challenging for employers to justify termination with cause. Employers must provide evidence of repeated warnings and progressive disciplinary actions to show that the employee had fair warning and many opportunities to remedy the situation.

How To Respond to a Performance Improvement Plan

If you receive a Performance Improvement Plan from your employer, do not sign it right away. Take time to review it carefully. If there’s anything you don’t understand, seek clarification.

Review the employer’s concerns honestly. Are they justified? For example, if your employer alleges chronic lateness and has your timesheets to prove it, your best course of action is to do whatever is necessary to prevent being late again.

In response, it’s a good idea to draft your own perspective of the events and issues described in the PIP if your version differs from that of your employer.

In some cases, a PIP can lead to a toxic work environment. This can be grounds for constructive dismissal. An employment lawyer can advise you of your rights.

If you’ve received a PIP, contact an employment lawyer to ensure you understand your rights and your options. Contact the employment lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates today.