On the Job

Responding to a Performance Warning

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 10, 2008; 3:08 PM

Workers inherently know when it's time to move on even if they ask others for confirmation of their inclinations. But many worry about the experiences they are leaving behind and how it might affect their chances to get a new job.

In many cases, perhaps including this one, the fears may be unfounded:

I got a written performance warning from my company and will be monitored in the next 60 days for my performance. In fact, my manager has given me a low performance review for the past three years, which I think is very biased. I have complained to him and his boss.

Is it time for me to look for another job? Will this written warning hurt me in hunting for my next job? Do I need to complain to human resources about the unfair treatment by my manager?

Eve Framinan, president of TPO Inc., a Tysons Corner human resources firm, says it is indeed probably time for this worker to move quickly to look for a new job. She says that aside from the fact that he has been given low assessments of his work for three years, the written performance warning would seem to indicate a new determination by the company to eventually build a documented record to fire him.

But she notes that the warning letter "should not" affect his job search. The reason, she says, is the reluctance of most companies to offer candid assessments of their departing workers to other firms, even of the ones they are quite happy to see leave, either on their own or by firing them.

Companies do not want to open themselves to lawsuits over negative assessments of employees that sometimes can be subjective and perhaps followed years of favorable reviews. Framinan says that most companies instead will offer only the barest of information about former workers, such as their dates of employment and positions they held. Some might confirm a final salary, but perhaps only after getting a written release from the employee.

She says companies trying to learn anything they can about an applicant might ask a former employer if the worker would be eligible to be rehired. Former employers might answer this question and if the answer is no, it very possibly would be a red flag.

Framinan suggests that a worker in this situation "ought to be very honest with themselves why this job wasn't a good fit" because they almost certainly will be asked by any potential employer why they left their old firm. Such a worker, she says, should be ready to say, "Here's why I'll be a success on this job."

She advises against trying to pursue this work dispute with human resources on the assumption that it is too late to try to smooth things over at this point. But she says that if he is given an exit interview by the company he can "be honest" with his feelings about the way he was treated.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com.

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