HR’s Role When an Employee Rejects their Performance Review

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I recently had someone ask me this question: If an employee gets a bad performance review and doesn't agree with it, is there value in going to HR to complain?

First off, let me say that I’m a firm believer than an employee’s performance appraisal should not be a shock to them. I don’t know if, in this case, the employee expected a poor performance review or if this was a surprise. However, in my experience, when an employee came to human resources to complain about their performance review, it was usually because their review was a surprise to them. Enough said.

Also, in case you’re wondering, let’s briefly cover the legal aspect of this. I reached out to Jonathan A. Segal, a partner at Duane Morris, LLP. Their employment practice group helps employers achieve their business goals while maximizing legal compliance. Jonathan has helped with other HR Bartender reader questions. So, I asked, are employees legally required to agree with or sign their performance appraisal? Here’s his reply:

“Employees do not have to agree with or even sign their performance appraisal. However, an employee's failure--indeed refusal, even to acknowledge does not speak well to the employee's paying attention to the concerns raised by the employer. The employer may want to communicate this fact to the employee.”

Speaking of communication, when an employee doesn’t want to sign their performance appraisal, one option that can be offered is to allow them to write some sort of rebuttal. The logic being if they don’t agree with the review, go on the record why you don’t agree with it. I asked Jonathan his thoughts on employees drafting a response to their performance appraisal:

“I like the idea of offering an employee the option. The response may be helpful in fueling a dialogue to address concerns raised by the employer. If the employee simply says s/he disagrees, this may help the employer in the event the employee ultimately is discharged. It shows the employee was given guidance on how to improve but decided he or she was beyond improvement.”

If you’re the employee, and you don’t agree with your performance appraisal, ask if you can write a reply. If you’re the manager, don’t be intimidated by the request. I know this is easier said than done. But remember the goal of a performance review: to improve performance. If allowing the employee to write a reply helps achieve that goal, it’s a good thing. Additionally, refusing to allow an employee rebuttal sends the message that the company isn’t open to employee feedback.

Which brings us to the reader note. Where does HR fit into this situation? Well, several places.

BEFORE the review. If a manager believes an employee isn’t going to like their performance appraisal, talk with HR before having the meeting. HR can offer some guidance on the best way to deliver the review. On the other side, if you’re an employee expecting a bad review, go talk with HR about your concerns and get some guidance on how to respond in a constructive manner.

DURING the review. The manager can give an employee the option of delivering their rebuttal to HR or to the manager.  

AFTER the review. The manager should debrief with HR about the discussion, let them know what happened and what the employee has decided to do. Once the employee rebuttal is received, it will be necessary to have a follow-up meeting to address the employee’s concerns. Depending upon the situation, HR might be involved in the follow-up meeting.

HR’s involvement really depends upon the structure of the organization. More importantly, the manager and employee are able to move past the bad performance review with open discussion and proper follow-up.


(Please note: Jonathan is great about sharing is expertise with us. Remember his comments are not legal advice and do not establish an attorney-client relationship.)

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