Identifying and addressing employee performance concerns can be challenging for managers or business owners. However, employee performance and management are crucial in fostering a successful and motivated team and workplace. When left unchecked, performance issues can impact the underperforming employees and those working alongside them. Additionally, they can send an unintended message that high-performance standards are not a priority.

This blog post will explore strategies for effectively addressing an employee’s performance concerns through a Performance Improvement Plan (also called a “PIP”). We outline what a Performance Improvement Plan is, the intentions behind utilizing one, and the employer’s duties when implementing one for an employee. This guide will help employers create a supportive environment for improvement while maintaining clear expectations and setting your team up for success.

What is a Performance Improvement Plan?

A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a document provided to an employee that is intended to help the employee improve their performance at work, and may be used to document evidence of poor performance or misconduct in the workplace. They are structured formal plans that outline performance issues and specific steps for an employee to take to achieve the desired performance goals. Typically Performance Improvement Plans last for 30 to 90 days. 

Specifically, a Performance Improvement Plan will detail:

  • The employer’s expectations of the employee;
  • How the employee is failing to meet such expectations; and 
  • How the employee can address and resolve performance problems. 

Discipline and Termination

A Performance Improvement Plan is not a punishment but rather a formal expression of concern by the employer about the employee’s work performance and a structured opportunity for the employee to improve. A Performance Improvement Plan is also not considered disciplinary action; however, disciplinary action, including termination, may follow if an employee fails to improve their performance after receiving it. 

In a wrongful termination case, a PIP may be used as a piece of evidence to show an employee’s cause for dismissal and an employer’s attempt to employ progressive discipline to resolve the issue(s).

Elements of a Performance Improvement Plan

A Performance Improvement Plan will generally include several components, such as:

  • Employer Expectations: The PIP will outline the employer’s clear) expectations of the employee, which should generally be guided by “SMART” objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and within a reasonable timeline) in accordance with the employee’s job description.
  • Timeline for Improvement: The PIP will typically be implemented for a specified duration of time during which the employee is expected to demonstrate improvement. 
  • Actionable Steps to be Taken by the Employee: 
  • Identified Supports and Resources: Relevant training, workplace support, and resources should be identified and provided to the employee in the PIP in order to help them achieve the expected improvements. 
  • Feedback and Outcomes: The PIP should outline how progress towards the required level of performance will be measured and what the consequences will be if the employee fails to achieve the expected improvement targets.

Overall, the Performance Improvement Plan should not focus solely on the employee’s shortcomings but should also give the employee a meaningful opportunity to improve their performance. PIPs should be approached as a constructive and collaborative process between the employer and employee. The ultimate goal is to help the employee develop and improve the necessary skills and abilities to meet the employer’s expectations.

Implementing a Performance Improvement Plan

A Performance Improvement Plan will not apply to every deficient performance scenario and should not be implemented after an isolated failure. Utilizing one following repeated poor performance by an employee, however, should be considered. 

Further, a Performance Improvement Plan is not the best course of action when the issues stem from an employee’s behaviour or conduct in the workplace, such as unlawful conduct, harassment, or discrimination. This type of misconduct is generally addressed without engaging a progressive discipline process. 

When Should an Employer Consider Implementing a PIP?

Although each employee is different, the following list outlines common examples of situations when an employer may consider using a PIP:

  • When an employee has historically performed well or meets most other areas of expectations but has consistent shortcomings in a particular area.
  • When an employee’s job description has undergone significant changes a structured framework is required to help them transition.
  • When an employee returns to the workplace after an extended leave to help them ease back into their role and meet current performance standards.

Duties of the Employer

Given the collaborative nature of a Performance Improvement Plan, the employer must act reasonably and work with the employee throughout the duration of the Performance Improvement Plan. As an employer, you should provide regular employee feedback and guidance to help them track progress and meet the expected performance targets. The scope of the Performance Improvement Plan must be clearly defined and communicated to the employee to ensure clarity regarding what the employee must achieve while the Performance Improvement Plan is in place.

An employer must provide the employee with clear and honest feedback. However, they should refrain from unfairly criticizing or denying the employee necessary assistance or guidance about the PIP goals and targets, as this may constitute grounds for a claim against the employer by the employee. 

Key Takeaways for Employers Regarding Performance Improvement Plans

Implementing a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a significant step designed to help employees reach their full potential. While a PIP can ultimately lead to termination if the identified goals are still not met, the primary focus is on providing clear expectations and actionable steps to help the employee improve. 

Before initiating a PIP, it is crucial to be prepared for various outcomes and consult with an experienced employment lawyer who can help you ensure that the document and process is fairly achievable and promotes positive outcomes for both the employee and the company.

Getz Collins and Associates Employment Lawyers Provide Practice Advice on Workplace Discrimination Matters

Getz Collins and Associates’ skilled labour and employment lawyers regularly advise employers on addressing employee performance issues. We ensure that regardless of the course of action taken, an employer’s risk and likelihood of expensive mistakes are mitigated. Our employment lawyers take time to carefully guide employers through the employee management and progressive discipline processes and help clients mitigate liability regarding future litigation. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our employment law team located in Calgary and Strathmore, contact us online or call our office at (587) 391-5600.