PIP

by Evil HR Lady on January 25, 2010

Can a company divulge the details of a performance improvement plan to another company verifying a candidate’s (assuming the candidate was put into a performance improvement plan by his former employer) employment history?

Can a company? Sure! (Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, and I have no knowledge of your actual location, so this may not apply to you at all.)

People have this strange idea that companies are a. only allowed to verify titles/dates/salaries or b. forbidden from giving bad reviews. This is false.

Now, if you follow the official rule book and your reference seeker calls HR (or an HR service center, which large companies frequently use) and asks for a reference, HR will give (or verify, depending on the company) title and dates of employment–maybe salary info if you are super-de-duper lucky. Most companies aren’t going to authorize an official reference to include anything else. I suspect there may be some companies which will say if it was a voluntary or involuntary term as well.

However, someone who is actually doing a reference check and not merely verifying employment is going to ignore that 800 number and call someone you actually worked for.

This person may have company rules which dictate what he can/cannot say, but that’s not to say he won’t open his mouth and tell the truth about your performance plan.

And yes, your boss could get in trouble from his boss for doing this, but unless it goes into the level of libel, it’s not illegal. Truth is still a defense against libel and a performance improvement plan (PIP) is an excellent way to prove truth. Whether or not the PIP itself was an accurate depiction of your performance is probably (hedging my answer here, as I am not a lawyer) irrelevant. Why? Because it is easily provable that you were on a PIP.

So, I suspect this isn’t just an academic inquiry. If you are on one, you really, honestly, truly, need to work your tail end off to get off the PIP. You also need to go HERE RIGHT NOW and read Alison Green’s (Ask A Manager) excellent column on what to do when you are about to get fired.

If it reaches the point of firing, it’s important that you find out exactly what your boss will say about you if he is called for a reference. And don’t think that if you don’t put him down as a reference on a resume that he won’t get called. Good recruiters are likely to call anyway.

For more on performance reviews:
Why a Formal Performance Review is Unnecessary.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Allen January 25, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I work for a major corporation that was at time was self insured (not sure now), so providing bad references was frowned upon for the fear of lawsuits. Thus, the 1-800 approach.

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Anonymous January 25, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Put the shoe on the other foot, what if you don't tell the truth (bad or not) and something that could have been prevented happens? For example, you own a bar and you fired a "bouncer" for using excessive force. Now another bar is looking for a reference on your ex-bouncer but you just verify his/her employment dates. The bouncer is hired and "accidentally" kills a patron by once again using excessive force. There was a case like this in Canada and the former employer was held liable for not revealing the truth.

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Allyson and Dave January 25, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I am a big supporter in getting real references and not verfications. I think the best way to avoid law suits is to state facts and not opinions. For example say "this person was consistantly late 3 times a week and had numerous customer complaints on file due to her poor attitude" instead of "this person is lazy and no one liked her". As long as you have documnetation to back up what you said you will be fine. I cannot tell you how many times I could have avoided a bad hire if I could have gotten a true reference.

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Anonymous January 30, 2010 at 5:24 am

"Evil" HR Lady, I have a question for YOU! I was hired at a software company three months ago. I was hired into a data entry position. It's a tough position. I love it though. They told me that I would be on probation for three months, and after that time they would evaluate me and decide whether they would keep me on and make me a permanent employee. Well, my three months was up today. I was called into the HR Director's office, and I was cool as a cucumber because I was very confidant that I was going to be "kept". Anyway, to my disappointment, the HR Director made me sign a paper committing me to two more months of probation. My direct supervisor, who was supposed to give an evaluation of my performance recently, is in Germany on business, and has been available by email, but apparently, he has not given any feedback to HR about whether to keep me on or not. So they had me sign a contract saying that my probationary period has been extended by two months. I was pretty scared, but I didn't ask any questions since the HR Director said nothing bad about me has been said by my supervisor or even his supervisor whom I sometimes report to. My supervisor is going to be back by the end of next week, like on Thursday, so, I'm wondering why they are extending my probationary period by two months (!!!). Do they not like me? Why not extend it just one more week or so? What does this sound like to you and do I have reason to be concerned? Be honest…
-Hilary_Popov@yahoo.com

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FreeFrag February 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm

What exactly would one do to defend from bad references given by a previous employer who had personal issues with you? My last boss took it to heart that the self-taught web designer he hired (me) knew more about computers than the college graduate (him), and so after two years he tried to make my situation unbearable so that I'd quit (cutting back work flow, telling me to stay on task while at the same time telling me that everything I have to work on is unimportant). I couldn't get a straight answer on why I was fired.

There was another employee who quit a few months prior, and she was a workhorse. The strongest work ethic and dedication I've ever seen; one couldn't ask for a better assistant marketing director. But after she quit, my boss said he would give her scathing references. I haven't been able to find a decent job since October of 2008 (I've been hired by a single retail company, nobody else responds). Should I have reason to suspect that he's manipulating my odds at getting hired?

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