A reader writes:
I wrote to you shortly after Hurricane Sandy regarding being written up by my boss for an unscheduled absence because I didn’t “specify that it was because of the hurricane.
[Editor's note: Here's the original letter, which I answered privately at the time: "When my area was hit by the hurricane, the guidance from my office was that it would be open but that employees were to use their judgment on whether to come in or not. I chose not to brave the storm and understood that I would need to use eight hours of PTO. When I returned to the office two days later (it was closed the next day due to the storm), my supervisor was waiting with a Performance Improvement Plan. In my company, taking three or more unscheduled days off in a six-month period will result in a PIP, and I had taken an unscheduled day in May and one in July. Management had sent out an email, however, informing employees that time missed during Sandy would not count toward a PIP, so I asked my supervisor why I was receiving one. She said that it was because I did not specify when I called out that it was because of the storm, so for all she knows I was sick or just didn't want to come in. To be honest, I don't recall exactly what I said when I called out that morning (I left a message on her voicemail, which is within company protocol), but I didn't think it mattered."]
I did end up taking that up the ladder, as you suggested, and not only was my PIP dropped, but my boss and HER boss (who signed off on the PIP) met with me and apologized for the incident (I would guess not on their own free will, but that’s fine).
I was assigned to a different group (not because of the unscheduled absence incident; we get switched around every year or so), and I thought I was done with my now-former boss until it came time for annual reviews. Even though I had a new boss, former boss wrote my review because I had been on her team for most of the review period.
Well, former boss hammered me on my review. She gave me very low scores on things such as “positive attitude in the workplace,” “professionalism,” “performs job with enthusiasm,” etc. Things that there are no quantitive ways to measure. All of the “1 out of 4s” she gave me completely overwhelmed the things like accuracy and productivity (I am a medical coder) which she had no choice togive me a good score on. Also, her boss signed off on it.
I’ve been with this company for 4-1/2 years and every review I’ve ever had has been outstanding. I’m worried that this review will affect my raise and bonus. I know you hear a fair amount of “It wasn’t faaaaaaaaair! My boss haaaaaaaates me!”, but I truly believe that she is getting back at me for crossing her.
My new boss says that, since my low scores have been entered into the computer system (UltiPro if you’ve ever heard of it), nothing can be changed but she will adjust my raise and bonus when the time comes to reflect the fact that my review was unfair.
I hate the idea of having this horrible review on my record, especially since I’ve always been an outstanding performer. I’m also not sure I trust my new boss to adjust my raise and bonus since there’s no way of knowing if a certain percentage raise is because the company is scaling back on raises or because my review was so poor.
Do I have any recourse? Is this something under HR’s purview?
Well, first, that’s great that your HR department handled the hurricane absence the way that they did, and that they pushed back against your manager and her manager. And that gives me hope that they’re likely to handle this new issue well too.
Because, yes, retaliating against someone in their performance review is a big deal. It’s a big deal on two counts: First, because it’s a performance review. That’s not something you mess around with, and if that’s really what happened here, it’s such a profound betrayal of their core job responsibilities that it should be treated as a major performance problem on their part. Second, it’s a deliberate attempt to undermine the action that HR took, and since HR in this case is representing the interests of your employer, it’s like your boss and her boss were saying “F you” to the management above them.
These are both two huge problems.
So yes, please do talk to HR about this. Talk to the person who you spoke with about the initial hurricane write-up issue, and be very clear that you think this is retaliation for going to HR about that. Point out that all your previous evaluations have been outstanding, and use the word “retaliation,” specifically, because that tends to perk up HR’s ears. Good luck.