Your Key Performance Appraisals Questions Answered

360px-Question_mark_(3534516458)Last week’s spirited XpertHR webinar on performance appraisals tackled legal requirements and best practices for private and public employers. Although the great majority of employers are not required by law to conduct performance appraisals, it is generally in an employer’s best interests to engage in some form of employee reviews in order to document performance expectations and goals, as well as provide documentation to help defend against potential lawsuits.

Adequately documenting performance appraisals is also important. The suitability of recordkeeping depends on specific jurisdictional requirements. For example, California’s law granting employee access to personnel records is one of the most expansive in the nation and should be meticulously followed.

Pregnancy Accommodations and Performance

Pregnancy accommodations, particularly dealing with light duty requirements, are a much-debated topic these days. Not only is the Supreme Court poised to rule on the issue this term in Young v. UPS, but the EEOC released Enforcement Guidance in July that suggests employers must provide light duty accommodations to pregnant employees if such accommodations are provided to other employees.

One attendee asked, “A pregnant employee accuses her manager of discrimination because he gives her lighter duties. How would you handle the situation?”

Without knowing all the details, my first two questions would be, did the employee request an accommodation? Or did the manager assume that she would need one based on the fact that she is now pregnant? If it’s the latter, the decision to grant an accommodation may have been based on subjective assumptions or stereotypes of pregnant women’s capacity to work rather than on objective, verifiable information.

A supervisor unilaterally making job duty decisions based on perceived differences in competence while an employee is pregnant may raise some red flags. Some, if not most, pregnant employees do not require any accommodations. In fact, until the light-duty debate, the vast majority of employees would have to fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act’s definition of an employee with a disability before they would be entitled to accommodations from an employer.

Accommodations, including available light duty or telecommuting options, should be granted as a result of a dialogue (or, to use a phrase I repeat often when discussing best practices in performance appraisals, a conversation, not a dictation). Failure to engage in an interactive process regarding reasonable options for accommodations could lead to greater liability risks.


Others had concerns regarding the receipt of performance feedback.

One attendee asked:

Even [when] providing performance feedback regularly, sometimes the employee just doesn’t understand that it affects their performance review when it is brought up again during the formal evaluation. How do you have a conversation to have them understand it is about performance?

Sometimes it is important to follow up an informal, spur-of-the-moment comment with a short one-on-one meeting to reinforce performance goals. This added reinforcement may work to ensure that an employee recognizes and internalizes constructive criticism regarding performance.

Remember, one of the goals of effective performance management is to minimize the number of instances in which an employee feels surprised or taken aback during a formal performance review.

Frequency of Feedback

Another attendee asked, “What is the best practice when administering performance reviews? On a yearly basis, quarterly, every six months or upon date of hire?”

The answer depends on an organization’s needs. Some employers prefer an annual performance appraisal process because it may coincide with year-end bonuses and there is a high likelihood that supervisors will stick to a set schedule for appraisals. However, this also places a high administrative burden on supervisors and may lead to stress and anxiety regarding the annual process.

Conducting reviews using an employee’s anniversary date may coincide nicely with an employer’s use of the performance review as a developmental tool. However, using different dates for employees may increase the likelihood that a particular employee’s appraisal may be delayed – or, worse, never held.

The timing of a performance appraisal, like every other decision regarding performance management, depends on a number of factors that are highly employer-specific. There is no “one size fits all” approach. Therefore, adhere to practices that make the most sense for your organization’s bottom line.

Any other questions? Feel free to connect with us on to find additional answers to your most pressing questions on performance appraisals, which is always a hot topic this time of year.