Tricked into signing a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). Anything I can do now?

Question: I am now 24 weeks pregnant. Two days ago, I was called into a meeting with my manager and my HR representative. In that meeting, I was told I needed to improve my management and communications skills, without any schedules or deadlines. I accepted this as a criticism, and agreed to do my best to improve. At the end of the meeting I was asked to sign a document, and told that it contained the same message. I wasn’t told that I could read it before signing it. I know it was stupid, but I was in a state of shock, so I signed it.

Later, I read it. It says not only that it was a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”), with specific dates for accomplishing specific tasks, most of which are impossible to accomplish. It also said that I agreed with what they said about my performance problems. I strongly disagree with the document, but do I have an option to fight back now?

Valerie
Denver, Colorado

Answer: Yes, you always have a right to fight back, and you always have a duty to yourself, your career and your family to fight back. And I hope you’ll give it a try. You really have nothing to lose. These are my suggestions:

First, no matter what you do, make sure you do it in an email; if it takes place in a meeting or on the telephone, always send an email confirming what took place. Email provides a permanent record.

Second, write up a brief, descriptive summary of what took place at your meeting a few days ago, something like the summary you sent me, but in a bit more detail. Make it clear that, while you don’t know if what happened was intentional deception, but that surely was the result: you signed it not understanding what it was. Be respectful, and professional, in everything you say, and how you say it. Detail and respect enhance credibility.

Third, send it BY EMAIL to your boss, your HR representative, and each of their bosses, and perhaps the CEO, as well. Ask for a new meeting and a new opportunity to respond.

Finally, whether or not they say “yes,” prepare a response, and in your response, contest (a) the facts of your performance, (b) the conclusions that you need to improve, (c) the process by which the PIP was given to you to sign, and (d) the motivation behind it, which may very well have been to get rid of a pregnant employee.

If you would like to obtain a “model” memo to help you respond to a
Performance Improvement Plan or Performance Review [click here].

Be respectful, but by all means be persistent. You will soon have a hungry mouth to feed, who may need braces one day, and who will no doubt go to college and grad school. Hey, someone’s got to earn that money. All kidding aside, kids are the ultimate “purpose” of our efforts, and can provide the inspiration to fight for what is right.

Hope that helps. Really do.

Best, Al Sklover

[pips]  
© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.