Plan ahead to apply PIPs consistently, fairly.

When employees aren't living up to work standards, consider placing them on a performance improvement plan that spells out what they must do to keep their jobs. While each case will be unique, it's important to set up procedures for implementing PIPs in advance.

If your plan is already established, courts are less likely to believe you placed an employee on a PIP as an excuse to get rid of her. It also makes it harder for an employee to argue that placing her on a PIP was a pretext for discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age or some other protected characteristic.

Key: Require all workers with similar performance problems to complete a PIP.

Recent case: The Department of Veterans Affairs, where Florence worked, requires supervisors to evaluate subordinates yearly. Each evaluation must detail any performance problems. The supervisor must tell the employee what her deficiencies are and offer a reasonable opportunity to correct them before the end of the year.

The whole process amounts to a PIP, identifying necessary...

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