Managing poor performance in the workplace can be a stressful time for a business as well as for the employee.  This weeks HR Highlight will go back to basics and review the first of the important elements of a good performance management approach – calling a meeting.

Identifying an Issue

When the business has identified an issue in an employees performance it is important that the issue is addressed fully and promptly.  Poor performance that is ignored is poor performance that is accepted, and small breaches can quickly escalate.  Despite this need for prompt attention, it is imperative that complicated breaches are fully investigated and verified before approaching an employee about them, to avoid causing employees undue stress for issues that may not be, in reality, a concern.

When the business is satisfied that there is a matter that needs to be discussed and addressed the mechanism for addressing this is a performance management meeting.

A performance management meetings goal is to outline the issues and standard response, seek employee feedback and comment, and take those onboard before a final decision on how to proceed is made by the business.

The first step is to properly Call the Meeting.

STEP 1:  Calling the Meeting

Calling the Meeting is a vital step in a good performance management approach, as done well it meets many of the elements of procedural fairness that are required of any performance management process.  Unfortunately, done poorly, this step can result in a “harsh” or “unfair” process, even if there are clear and valid reasons for action.

Many businesses get themselves into trouble by skipping this step or failing to treat it with the gravity it requires. 

Under the law any performance management process  will be considered unfair and harsh if the employee is “surprised” with a performance management meeting. 

Furthermore, all employees have the right to have a Support Person attend any performance management meeting to act as a witness for the employee, and failure to call the meeting appropriately may deny the employee the opportunity to arrange a Support Person, which would render the process harsh and unfair.

This leads to the question of ‘What is appropriate notice?’. 

Appropriate Notice;

While it will differ in some circumstances, best practice is to schedule performance management meetings within the employees usual working hours, and with at least a days notice to allow for the employee to arrange a Support Person to be present if they desire.  It is also vital that the employee understand that they are being called to a performance management meeting, and what it is concerning, so that they can prepare.

Example – poor performance

“Thank you for your time on the phone just now.  As discussed you are required to attend a performance management meeting to address poor performance, specifically a pattern of late attendance, that may impact on your continuing employment.  As discussed this meeting has been set down for [date], [time] at [location] and will be attended by [name] and [name] on behalf of the business.  The business notes that this meeting fits within your usually rostered hours.  Thank you for agreeing to participate in this process. “

Example – gross misconduct – cash control breaches

“Thank you for your time on the phone just now.  As discussed you are required to attend a performance management meeting to address gross misconduct, specifically serious breaches of cash control breaches, that are likely to impact on your continuing employment.  As discussed this meeting has been set down for [date], [time] at [location] and will be attended by [name] and [name] on behalf of the business.  The business notes that this meeting fits within your usually rostered hours.  Thank you for agreeing to participate in this process. “

Other considerations;

While many businesses understand the importance of calling performance management meetings with appropriate notice, ACAPMA is often asked, what about day to day discussions that naturally evolve into performance management discussions.  An example of this would be a standard weekly catch up meeting with an employee that highlights an issue that is of significant concern to the business and may amount to poor performance or even misconduct.  ACAPMAs advice in these situation is to note to the employee that this general discussion appears to be naturally turning into a performance management discussion and as such you are going to bring the discussion to a halt and schedule a meeting for the next day so that it can be explored properly.

In the rare circumstances where a serious issue arises as part of normal interactions, such as gross misconduct, where the business has concern about the employee remaining at work the concern and seriousness should be communicated to the employee and the employee stood down with pay until the matter can be explored in a formal performance management meeting.

What you need to remember;

  • DO NOT surprise an employee with a performance management meeting
  • DO NOT let an organic discussion morph into a performance management meeting
  • DO call the meeting within employees standard working hours if possible
  • DO call the meeting with enough time to allow the employee to arrange for a Support Person to be present as a witness if they choose (ideally 24 hours)
  • DO ensure that the employee is made aware of the reason for the meeting “a Performance Management Meeting” and the specifics eg: ‘poor performance that may impact continuing employment’, ‘serious breaches and gross misconduct that is likely to impact continuing employment’
  • DO ensure that there is a record of the calling of the meeting – call the meeting in person or on the phone, but confirm all details in an email or text

Remember, even if there was a valid reason for termination, any termination that occurs where the employee did not know they were attending a performance management meeting, that they were denied the option of having a Support Person in attendance, that was called with false pretences, will be deemed to be unfair.

Step 2:  The Meeting

Next weeks HR Highlight will explore the Meeting itself, the roles and important procedural fairness elements.

Members are reminded that ACAPMA can assist in the performance management of employees in member businesses through the provision of advice and support as well as template letters and checklists.

Here to Help

ACAPMA’s Employment Department is available to assist members via employment@acapma.com.au.

HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation by emailing employment@acapma.com.au  to reach one of ACAPMA Workplace Relations Professionals, its free for members.