should you refuse to sign a performance improvement plan?

A reader writes:

A peer and I both are HR managers, and we were discussing whether, if we weren’t in HR, we would sign a PIP (performance improvement plan).

I said that if I was the average employee, I would not sign a PIP, because the verbiage (in most PIPs) basically states that you agree with the negative assessment of your performance. The signed PIP can (and will) be used against the employee at unemployment hearings, cause of terminations, EEOC lawsuits, etc. Although most states are at-will and can terminate at any time, I’m against signing a PIP that may cause more damage once the employee is separated from the company.

My peer feels that by the employee not signing the PIP, it may cause more of a difficult work environment, which may cause management to watch the employee more closely and create more of a reason to terminate the employee at the end of the PIP cycle, whereas otherwise the employee might have been able to save their job at the end of the PIP cycle. She also feels that the employee could use this opportunity to search for another job; while agreeing to the terms of the PIP.

What are your thoughts?

If I asked an employee to sign something to acknowledge that they’d received a document (a PIP or anything else) and they refused to sign, that would such a hostile and adversarial move that I can’t imagine the relationship being repaired at that point. How could it not be over at that point?

On the other hand, if I asked an employee to sign something stating that they agreed with a performance assessment, and they didn’t actually agree with that assessment and thus declined to sign, that would be entirely reasonable. No one should push someone to sign something that they don’t actually agree with.

So it’s the difference between signing to indicate agreement with the assessment versus signing to acknowledge receipt. Most PIPs that I’ve seen, if they require a signature at all, ask the employee to sign only to indicate that she’s read the document and understands its terms (which often include that she will be let go if the terms of the PIP aren’t met). If your organization is asking employees to sign that they agree with the assessment — as opposed to agreeing with the plan — that’s problematic, and I’d change that wording.

(And anyone who’s ever asked to sign to indicate they agree with a PIP’s assessment should feel free to add a note saying, “signing to indicate receipt only.”)

And really, the signature requirement itself is a bureaucratic detail; it’s not essential. You can proceed with the PIP without ever asking for a signature.

But yeah, an employee flat-out refusing to sign to acknowledge receipt is a big deal (even courts in California have ruled that it’s misconduct and a disqualifier for receiving unemployment benefits), and a sign that that relationship isn’t going to be salvaged.

{ 97 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann Furthermore*

    I did once refuse to sign a performance evaluation, because it was full of very negative comments that were flat-out not true. Even though I had ample documentation to refute every single performance issue listed in the review document, the review stood the way it was and my manager did not have to change anything. Like he said that I didn’t communicate with him on things, but I went back through my sent emails and found over 250 to him over a six month period, not including those he was copied on. Didn’t matter. That review went into my employment file.

    It was very upsetting, and I refused to sign it, and the reason I gave was that I did not want, at any point down the road, for someone to see my signature on that document and in any way be led to believe that I agreed with it at all.

    Signing it with the added comment “indicates receipt only” would have been a good alternative. I would have done that, had I thought of it.

    1. AnonK*

      I also refused to sign the one I received, because it was complete BS. One of the things that was included was an accusation that I said a “bad word” at a meeting that took place on a day where I was in the hospital with pneumonia. I was obviously not at said meeting, saying words that were inappropriate or otherwise. Why would I sign something that was a pack of lies, even to acknowledge that I received it? At that point, I knew my relationship with my boss was beyond reconciliation, so his opinion on me signing was not even on my radar.

      I immediately contacted a lawyer to get advice on how to proceed. And then out of nowhere, I received a call from someone I had met at a conference 6 months earlier, offering me a job out of the blue. Fantastic opportunity, huge promotion, perfect timing. Since I left before the PIP came to conclusion, I have no idea if my refusal to sign would have resulted in any action. I did, however, provide HR with a copy of my hospital record, as was suggested by my attorney. I know that my boss at the time was given a very stern talking to over the PIP.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Glad it all worked out for you! And I’m glad you gave HR the proof that your review was BS. Most of the time, the review process is valuable and should give good feedback about what you’ve done well, and what you can improve upon. But there are managers who use them in a punitive way or to air petty grievances.

        I found out later that the reason my manager was under the impression that I didn’t communicate with him was all his own doing. He’d joined the company, and like everyone else, his email was set up as He didn’t like that, because he went by a nickname and that’s what he wanted his email address to be. “I’m not firstname,” he said. “I’m T-Bone. So my email address should be” He made such a stink about it, that the IT guys finally did it just to get him to quit bugging them, but his old address was active too. So most of his emails, meeting invites, and so on, were sent to the address with his proper name.

        And no, T-Bone was not the real nickname. :)

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Sounds like IT fell down on their jobs too. I don’t do email, but I’ve been under the impression that merging two account names is something that many email programs have done for a long time.

          1. iseeshiny*

            Yeah, when I got married IT just set it up so that both my new email and my old email went to the same account. While I suppose it’s possible that there are some email clients that don’t support this, it seems improbable.

            1. PoohBear McGriddles*

              I go by a nickname, and emails sent to either address make it to my inbox.
              T-Bone would be an awesome email address, though.

            2. Cat*

              Yeah, I’ve had to set it up so the most common misspelling of my first name is a legitimate e-mail address (I was missing way too many e-mails before).

          2. AnonK*

            I’m in IT and at one point in my career, was responsible for the email aliases. Super glamorous. You would be shocked how many times we get this request. Our naming convention was dictated from data feeds from HR, so overriding it is a real pain in the rear. Technically possible? Yes. Practical? No.

            I once had a kid fresh out of college send me a very strongly worded email about how if he didn’t have the email changed by the end of the day to his nick name, he was going to quit. So my response: “OK Sparky, let me know when you are leaving so I can make sure I delete your account”. Turns out he was someone’s nephew. Oops. I got dressed down for that one, but it was worth it. He was pretty entitled and kept on abusing my staff. So I never did give him his preferred email address. We made sure there was a “glitch” that made sure it was reset to what HR had listed for him every night at midnight.

            Don’t mess with nerds. We can be petty.

            1. Ann Furthermore*

              I know — it amazes me. What’s the big deal about using your proper name? I guess if my real name was something like Prunella, I’d probably want to go by something else, but in general I think people should just accept what the policies are. They’re there for a reason. People who make a big stink about stuff like this don’t seem to realize that they make a name for themselves, and not in a good way.

              A friend of mine worked at a company where the email address convention was first initial, middle initial, and the first 5 letters of your last name. If you shared a first and middle initial, and last name with someone, then your middle initial was changed to “X.” (Like Jane D. Smith and John D. Smith) So my co-worker’s friend’s name started with “S,” and the first 5 letters of her last name were “Padil.” Someone else had the default address with her middle initial, so her email address was “sxpadil.” And of course all anyone ever called her was Sex Paddle. I met her a few times — she was pretty laid back and easy going, and thought it was pretty funny and never made a stink about it.

              1. Stephanie*

                I could see it if you go by your middle name and aren’t used to being referred by your first name.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Or if you’re married and still use your maiden name professionally, or if all your business contacts know you by a different name, or if you’re transgender and haven’t legally changed your name yet. It really shouldn’t be a big deal; your email address should have the name you’re known by.

                2. Ann Furthermore*

                  In my experience (which is admittedly limited — I’m an IT geek, but a different type of IT geek) when a company is smaller it’s easy to set up email accounts for people with abbreviations or nicknames. Jim would like his email to be jim.lastname rather than james.lastname. Terrence would prefer terry.lastname or to use his nickname, Pot Roast. When you have a company of maybe a few hundred employees, it’s not hard to make those changes on the fly. (Pot Roast is the nickname name of Terrence Knighton, the guy who sacked Tom Brady at a critical moment during the AFC championship game last weekend. They were talking about his nickname later, which I think is hilarious.)

                  But as the company grows, it gets harder to make those accommodations for people, especially if you have a direct feed from your HR system into the system that sets up your network accounts. My company has been around forever, and the people who have been here a long time have abbreviated versions of their names (Tim rather than Timothy, etc). But newer employees just get firstname.lastname and that’s that.

              2. NylaW*

                There are some regulations for healthcare and government agencies that if you have a medical license your username in all systems and email address has to be the name that is on your legal medical license. We have nurses and doctors complain about this all the time, and we tell them if you don’t like your given name you have legal options to change it any time you like.

              3. martini*

                I realize a lot of people with anglo-names haven’t run into this, but there are a huge number of people using names that don’t match what’s on their birth certificate, and they use it in all aspects of their life. The guy in the cubicle next to me has a Chinese name that I only found out about through a computer glitch, his email is different and he only ever uses the anglo-name. I worked for a licensing authority once, and this came up there all the time too.

              4. Tinker*

                It seems like she shouldn’t even be able to “make a big stink” — had she not liked the name, from my perspective the only acceptable response to “my email address is pronounced ‘sex paddle’, and I do not favor this”, pretty much regardless of how delivered, is “oh my deity expression of choice, I am so sorry, I will make sure this is fixed immediately.”

              1. AnonK*

                Bless you :) and I pay it forward – I make sure that nobody on my team is ever rude to HR, accounting, or other support orgs.

                We all need to stick together.

          3. MJ*

            Yeah, this. I have both mj.lastname and fullfirst.lastname and they both just come to my main inbox. Same with my hubby who changed his last name when we got hitched. This sounds like an IT fail as much as anything.

            1. Jen in RO*

              An ex-coworker of mine got married last year. The day after the submitted the paperwork with her new name, she had been locked out of all her accounts. A couple of hours later (and only because we had local IT and didn’t have to make a ticket in the system), it transpired that someone had changed her username and hadn’t told her. They couldn’t grant her new username all the correct rights, so they just reverted back to the old one and changed the display name on her e-mail account.

        2. Tinker*

          The guy sounds like a bit of a jerk overall, but in that case it doesn’t sound like the failure was his. Speaking as a person who is in something of a similar situation, the most bureaucratic company I’ve worked for was able to incorporate my proper name — as in, the name that I’m known by and answer to — into my email address and the “preferred name” field of the corporate address book, although they still prominently listed my legal first name. For all other employers I’ve had my legal name has basically been between me and HR, as it should be.

          It’s not all that uncommon to encounter cases where people have preferred names that differ from their legal names or have legal names that change. That IT dragged their heels on dealing with this and then implemented it badly sounds like more their failing than his.

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            Yeah, huge jerk, and to be fair, looking back on our very rocky relationship there were things I could have handled better.

            But you’re right — it was some sort of IT snafu, I’m not sure what. When I got married, I changed my name, and now both email addresses point to the same Active Directory ID.

      2. HR Lady*

        AnonK, I often help managers write PIPs. I go through the details with them to make sure they don’t state anything that’s incorrect, because of course that lowers the credibility of the manager (and the PIP itself). I would have been so annoyed if a manager wrote a PIP like the one you described – where the employee could not have been at the meeting because he/she was in the hospital that day.

        (That said, my guess would be that the incident happened at a different meeting on another day, and the manager just remembered the details incorrectly. Managers should keep notes about when employees mess up, so that they don’t have to rely on their memories.)

        1. AnonK*

          It was a pure revenge PIP. It’s been a number of years so some of the details have faded over time. But what really went down was this:
          Boss was very insecure. If you made him look good, he was fine. He was abusive and created a toxic environment. He would publically dress down his directs in front of his peers just so he would get full credit. I can write a book about this guy, and actually have told several stories about him in my comments. My self preservation way of managing up was to make him look as good as possible. This limited the vile spewed my way.

          After a major initiative I took on for 6 months, it became very evident to the higher ups that I was performing quite highly. Every time I received a compliment on my work, I got dumped on more and more by the boss. Meanwhile, I kept my head down. I had a coworker who had filed a formal complaint with HR on his behavior and I wanted to see how that would play out, but I had no intention of stirring the pot. As time went on, the relationship deteriorated even further. I tried to position my work to make the team as a whole look good, but the cat was out of the bag. People went over my boss to contact me directly and that upset him. I’d try to minimize this by deflecting credit back to him, but it was too late.

          One day, a C level in the company mentioned to me and my boss in a meeting that it was time to talk about a promotion for me. The look in my boss’s eyes told me everything. I was in serious trouble now. I think he was a true sociopath. I went home that evening, both excited for a potential advancement and completely worn down by the toxicity I had been living in. The next morning, I had a one on one with my boss first thing. I decided to start with an olive branch – “I’m hoping that the exposure from yesterday’s meeting helps our entire team, and I think it reflects well on your leadership” or something of that nature. He looked at me and said “I know you do” and he handed me the PIP. I was blindsided. I’m not saying I’m perfect, and it was very possible that there were areas in my performance that needed to be addressed. But this was obviously retaliatory and the best he was able to come up with overnight. I pointed out that I wasn’t at the meeting he mentioned, and he shrugged and said it didn’t matter. HR wasn’t present. Our company policy prevented any moves or promotions when you have had a PIP in the past 6 months, so the conclusion I drew was this was his way of preventing my promotion.

          As mentioned above, I got a job offer and decided that it was time to move on. I asked HR to be present when I tendered my resignation because I honestly didn’t trust my boss not to twist this into something else. And HR’s reaction told me everything that I needed to know. They said the PIP was not meant to be a disciplinary tool, and they had requested that my boss not use it in this case. I never found out what “this case” was, since all I had was a boss who wanted to talk about a meeting that I wasn’t at (that happened 6 months prior, by the way) the day after it became clear he wasn’t going to be able to manage me for much longer. HR was livid and I was offered a very generous counteroffer, with the condition I wouldn’t be in my boss’s department anymore. But I felt that the workplace had become so toxic that I didn’t want to be at a company that would continue to employ someone like this. I provided the hospital records as per my attorney and HR assured me that not only was I eligible for rehire, but there would be no record of the PIP if I chose to come back.

          The old boss did get fired. Eventually. And it wasn’t for the hostile environment he created. It wasn’t for the many inappropriate and discriminatory remarks he made (he once told me he wouldn’t approve a hire I wanted to make of a veteran because they aren’t “right in the head”). It wasn’t because his performance existed solely of taking credit from the team. It was because he got caught stealing from the company. Go figure. He was a well rounded a-hole.

          Not sure if anyone read this whole thing, but typing it all out, even a couple of years later, was very therapeutic.

          1. HR lady*

            AnonK, I came back to read this – thanks for posting it. Wow, that sounds like quite a situation! Not at all what I originally thought. Glad you got out of there.

    2. anon-2*

      I had a conflict with a manager once – and he committed a devastating act against me. Unprofessional, but I let it slide. I had been told by the director “if you ever have a problem, come to me.” I did – and thought it would smooth things out.

      We had words the next few weeks over it…. then, I got a retaliatory review. I sat with him and my director, and refused to sign it.

      “But ya hafta.” Hell no I do not. I said “if I sign this, I would have to reply to it with specifics. I REALLY don’t want to do that. If I did that, it would not serve any of the three of us, or this company, any purpose.”

      My manager wanted to go ahead with it. The director looked at him – and backed off. It wound up in the hands of HR. The director, myself and HR. We worked out the problem without getting to specifics, but HR asked “was there a problem leading up to this” I said , “Yes, but I don’t want to go there.”

      My director was relieved. Now, one of the things I always learned –although the manager will always be “backed up and supported”, if a manager is about to do something completely stupid, he/she can be stopped.

      I like to view this incident as one in which –

      a) my management realized, they were about to make a huge mistake

      b) they were offered a chance to back away from the blunder without losing face.

      c) we were able to save the relationship and go forward.

      Now – that will not always work. BUT … it might. I had nothing to lose by trying to save the situation and the three of us had everything to gain.

      BTW – the bad review was expunged. I did wind up leaving there nine months later – but not over this, it was a peaceful departure.

    3. anon-2*

      See comments below — I once was written up for a reprimand – a formal one – I had a manager who was “out to get me”.

      I was accused of botching a print project – I worked in computer operations – someone had mis-printed 15,000 statements and sent them out…and at the time this was done — I was 2000 miles away and in the middle of a two-week vacation.

      I tried to explain, was threatened — so I DID respond. In writing, to the HR department. Three days later he got the written response from ME. I sent hotel receipts, gas station receipts, phone call records, and my vacation record.

      I resisted the suggestion to have the manager tested for substance abuse. Weirdly enough they didn’t offer to remove the review — GOOD, I said.

      “Why is that good?” — He will NEVER mess with me again.

      And he never did. He tried again a year later – again, I was away on vacation, my co-workers didn’t get the job done, and he tried to blame me for not coming in, but my supervisor defended me on that one.

  2. Yup*

    I honestly think this might be one of those bad pieces of advice that gets passed around the workplace underground — that not signing a PIP or negative appraisal somehow neutralizes it or prevents further action on the part of the company. Unless there’s specific language that your signature indicates assent to something (“By signing, I agree to…), signing it just shows that you have received the document or been notified of the content — i.e. proving that the company hasn’t written a secret PIP or appraisal that you haven’t seen. There might be some instances of union grievances or filings that can’t proceed without formal signatory steps, but in your average workplace, the signature is just a due diligence step to show that you were made aware of this information.

    A former coworker once refused to sign a appraisal because she disagreed with the “below average” rating given by her manager. Instead of noting her disagreement and stating her case in the ‘Employee Response’ section, she just refused to sign the document. After trying to work through it with her to no avail, they just had the head of HR sign and note that she had been a witness to the discussion of the review and that the employee had received the written copy but refused to sign it. And the relationship went from rocky to completely unsalvageable.

    For the record, I’m not saying you should never push back on something unfair or never object if you think the writeup is inaccurate. But just refusing to sign is a non-starter; if anything, it throws gasoline on the fire.

    1. fposte*

      Right. And the odds that you’ll be in a situation where your signed PIP convicts you but an unsigned PIP gets you out of trouble are pretty slim–there really isn’t likely to be a Perry Mason moment where somebody says “Aha, but did you notice this PIP *was never signed*?”

      1. fposte*

        Though to be clear, I totally understand the psychology of resisting signing something you don’t believe to be true–I just don’t think it really confers the advantages the OP is theorizing.

    2. KarenT*

      The signed PIP can (and will) be used against the employee at unemployment hearings, cause of terminations, EEOC lawsuits, etc.

      Given the OPs statement above, I can see why many people are reluctant to sign PIPs!

      1. Anonymous*

        I will note that at least for most US states Unemployment programs being fired for just not being very good at your job, you’ll still collect unemployment. So unless your pip is about doing illegal things at work, at least in my state (not CA) your pip would be worthless because even if it is all true you’ll still collect.

        1. Stephanie*

          Yeah, in my state (VA), you could collect even with a PIP. As long as you were trying (i.e., no misconduct and was just fired purely for performance issues), you qualified.

      2. fposte*

        Except I’m not sure that’s true in common practice (EEOC hearings are pretty rare birds in general, too). The one hearing that it’s likeliest to come up is the unemployment filing, and that’s the one where refusing to sign the PIP will screw you anyway.

        1. KarenT*

          I agree that refusing to sign isn’t useful, but I can understand why people believe it is. The OP is an HR professional and this was her statement on signed PIPs.

          1. fposte*

            I understand that was her statement; I’m thinking, though, it’s reflecting a strand of HR belief rather than her first-hand experience in dealing with EEOC cases, etc. If the OP has in fact brought PIPs to bear in a legal situation, I hope she’ll share more.

  3. Allison*

    Huh, didn’t know PIPs involved any documents. I was just taken into a back room and told I was being put on one. Although my boss did have a co-worker sit in and witness the conversation, is that normal?

      1. Allison*

        Nah, not gonna bother, although I do think my PIP was mismanaged. Everything was probably legal, but morally questionable since my boss lied to me about my job being in jeopardy. For me to even *think* I was in danger of being fired was laughably paranoid, and I had *weeks* to turn things around before they would even consider firing me. I was let go the next week.

    1. MaryMary*

      It’s not unusual for a manager to pull in a third party when having a difficult conversation with an employee. It prevents he said/she said issues later. Especially if your company’s policy doesn’t involve a written PIP (that part is a little strange, since PIPs usually include specific performance criteria and specific timing), the third party is a witness that the conversation actually happened and your manager properly communicated all the information she needed to. I have a colleague who was once the only female manager in her group, and she got pulled into performance conversations for people she’d never met before, just so there was another woman in the room when the employee was told tube tops are not appropriate office attire.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I pulled in a third person when I had to fire someone that had the potential to become violent. I explained to this person that the third party was there for both our benefits, because she would be listening to what we both say.

        It went about as well as could be expected…. sigh….

        1. Ruffingit*

          UGH. Yeah, once you have someone with the potential to become violent, no conversation about their performance is likely to go well.

    2. TL*

      I got a document to sign and some very clear instructions on it as to an improvement plan, which was exactly what I needed to improve.

      Plus a sit-down with my boss.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too, the time I was put on one, and HR sat in on it. There was one thing on it that was complete bullcrap. They said I was rude to a vendor and described a phone call that I remembered, because it hadn’t been that long ago. Someone had called and asked if we accepted a certain credit card. I said I wasn’t sure, but I could check with Accounting or transfer them if they wanted. They said no, that was okay, and that was it. In the meeting, I was told “That was our card rep and he said you said we wouldn’t be interested in opening an account.”

        I told them no way; I would have transferred a call like that to my boss (Accounting /HR manager) because I didn’t screen calls unless they were obviously bogus (like the copier scam stuff). So I put my initials by it and wrote that I did not agree with it. There was no way for them to substantiate it, and I wasn’t going to agree to that when I knew I didn’t say it.

  4. Melly*

    I was asked to sign one once, and I refused because I didn’t agree with it, but i asked to speak to my boss (owner of company–it was a small company) to explain why i wouldn’t sign it, and he agreed and changed the assessment, then I signed. I wouldn’t sign anything i didn’t agree with.

    1. Anonymous*

      But you aren’t generally agreeing with the assessment, you are agreeing that you recieved it. Do you disagree that you recieved the document?

      1. Anna*

        The problem is that whether or not you’re signing to state you’ve received the document, the perception will ALWAYS be that you’re signing because you agree with the assessment. People who refuse to sign are aware of that and I don’t blame them for holding out.

    2. A Reader*

      Does your unicorn horn ever bump into clouds as you slide down rainbows? This scenario is so far outside the norm it sounds fake. I’m sure it wasn’t, just saying it’s unlikely in the way Chris Christie is to have a very successful run for prez in the next election….

      1. Citizen of Metropolis*

        It’s not all that fanciful – it happened in my shop. One of my supervisors was having problems with one his direct reports and came to me about it. I kept my eye on the situation and came to my own conclusions. When the employee was given her review, it was terrible, and she refused to sign it and asked to speak to me. I rewrote the review to reflect my opinions and sent the supervisor to management training classes.

        And just as a general note, we practice civility in the comments here.

      2. Dan*

        Happened to me too. I suggested corrections to some things that were wrong and made the whole thing sound much worse than it was.

        After the corrections were made, I signed.

        No unicorns or rainbows involved

  5. anonymous*

    Beyond signing to indicate agreement and signing to indicate understanding of the plan, there is a.third possibility, and that is to sign the document without a specification as to what the signature.means. it is surprising to me how many documents fall into.the latter category.

    1. Jessa*

      Yeh and in that case I would ASK, and then sign appropriately adding – signing to acknowledge receipt or signing to agree with the plan even though I don’t agree with the reasons, etc. Any company that writes a signature line and isn’t specific in the document as to the WHY, is going to have to put up with me adding why. And at that point if they argue with me about the addendum, I’m going to refuse to sign. But that’s different than a blanket refusal. Either they add it into the document themselves, or they put up with me adding it. Also I get a copy. I don’t sign ANYTHING I don’t get a copy of. Even if for some security thing they have to redact most of it. I don’t trust a lot of companies to produce a FULL paper trail, if asked.

  6. Tiff*

    I refused to sign one. My supervisor tried to say that I burped at my desk 3 weeks prior and didn’t come to a non mandatory meeting, which she tried to make mandatory on the pip. I refused to sign and wrote a scathing letter that I never got to present because was fired the next day. Ah, the karma.

      1. Tiff*

        Yes, she got fired. And it was epic – tears, ranting, and empty threats. I couldn’t help it, I laughed. Loudly.

      1. Tiff*

        We were going through staffing cuts, she was told her team would lose someone so she tried to offer me up like a sacrificial lamb. But she forgot that I did twice as much work as she did for half the pay. The frivolous pip sealed the deal.

    1. AB*

      Must have been a heck of a burp if it required a PIP! How does one even go about improving performance in that instance?

      1. Tiff*

        According to her, someone else heard a loud burp, and when they checked the reception area I was the only one there. I worked at the reception desk. Alone. Looking back it’s hilarious.

  7. DeAnna*

    Auto-correct catch — “If your organization is asking employees to sign that they agree with the assessment — as opposed to aggressing with the plan — that’s problematic, and I’d change that wording.”

    I’m thinking that “agressing” should be “agreeing.”

    Thanks for all the great advice you dispense, Alison!

  8. Mena*

    The signature is purely an acknowledgement that the information has been conveyed. It isn’t an agreement with the assessment, which is clearly a subjective opinion.

    1. HR Lady*

      I agree. Our PIPs have a line next to the signature box that says they are acknowledging that they received it. OP, you will do yourself a lot of favors (preventing headaches in the future) if you add a line like that.

      I’m worried about what the OP said about PIPs, because it seems so pessimistic and contrary to the spirit of a PIP. Most PIPs I’ve seen (and helped write) are written with the goal of improving the employee’s performance so that they can keep their job. If you (OP) don’t approach them that way, then how on earth can the employee (recipient) approach it that way?

  9. Mimi*

    My friend, who works in HR, once told me never to sign a PIP because – in her words – “then there’s no proof it was even given to you. You can always say you never received it/were notified of any issues.”

    1. fposte*

      Wow, it’s sort of depressing how it’s the HR people themselves who are saying not to trust PIPs.

      1. HR Lady*

        For the record, I’d never tell anyone not to sign a PIP so that the person can deny they ever received it. (In other words, I’d be advising them to lie.)

    2. A Bug!*

      Did you laugh in your friend’s face for giving such ridiculous advice? If there were such a thing as HR malpractice that would qualify.

      1. Mimi*

        It definitely left me bewildered. I agree with Alison that refusing to sign it, just to acknowledge receipt, is rather hostile.

    3. Rayner*

      I hope your friend is aware that usually, this kind of thing goes into someone’s notes, and a record is made of it even without the recipient’s signature? It’s not like it magically disappears if nobody puts pen to paper.

      1. fposte*

        Plus it’s easy to fire somebody for insubordination then, and that’s something that can keep you from getting unemployment.

  10. Not So NewReader*

    A family member signed this way, “signature indicates I have read this document ONLY.”

    The boss went ballistic. “How dare you deface this document!” Family member stood his ground. “I will sign that I received this but I will not sign that I agree with the assessment of the situation.” Then he launched into his reason why. Which included a long history with the company of no write ups, being a “go-to” source and so on. He had is ducks in a row, his facts were accurate and not over stated. The boss backed down.

    If you have a boss that is sane most of the time AND if you can remain calm, you can talk your way through these things sometimes. That’s a lot of “if’s”. Sometimes these write ups make a person think about the big picture and the fact that s/he might need to move on to another company. My family member liked his job/company/coworkers and did not have a long history of difficulty with any aspect of the job. The PIP was a one-off, so he decided to stand his ground. And it worked out okay. Very nerve-wracking process, though.

  11. Emily K*

    I’d love to hear from the OP or others in HR/management who’ve seen a plausibly statistically valid number of PIPs implemented (10+). Do most people save their jobs with PIPs, or do a majority of PIPs lead to firings (whether it’s because they didn’t care enough to improve or it was sheer incompetence is of less interest)? Of those who survive a PIP, how many leave voluntarily within the year?

    1. Stephanie*

      I’m neither HR nor management, but too often I’ve seen them used as basically documentation for employee the manager’s already assumed is doomed. My mom always told me a PIP was never a good sign (even if you survive it) just because your professional credibility (at that job at least) is too damaged.

      I did have a job where you could overcome a PIP. But that job was unique because our performance was mostly based on output quotas. So if you could work enough to exceed your numbers for that quarter and have it average out, you were fine.

    2. HR lady*

      I’ve seen more than 10 PIPs implemented :). I’d have to go back and check whether the majority led to firings or not. It’s probably close to 50/50. But still, those are pretty good odds – better than many of the commenters here seem to think.

    3. Dan*

      Not a manager or HR, but I’m a PIP survivor. I got one about 3 years ago. It was BS, so meeting the terms and “showing improvement” was easy – I just kept my head down, continued to do my job, and lobbied for a transfer to another group.

      A few months later, I was moved under a new manager and have been doing great ever since. I even got a fat raise last year when raises were given out only by exception.

  12. Anna*

    The problem with signing a PIP just to acknowledge you received it is that no matter what, signing it is viewed as agreeing to what’s written. It doesn’t matter what the wording of the piece of paper says, once you’ve signed it everyone will assume what’s written is true.

  13. Joey*

    Here’s my thinking. Refusing to sign is refusal to accept your managers perception of your work. That is you’re basically saying what I saw with my own eyes to be the truth isn’t real. And here’s the thing: if it turns out that I am wrong in my assessment of your performance meeting the terms of the PIP should be a walk in the park. I don’t expect you to take the rationale for the PIP as the cold hard truth, but I do expect you to take it as my perception of your performance. And if you can’t accept my perception of your work now why should I expect you to be able to accept my perceptions of it later.

    1. Kathlynn*

      But sometimes the PIP don’t include mile stones (mine never did). Sometimes, the manager has a grudge against the employee (mine did). And there are many reasons why a person might disagree. Example, I was on break once. A few customers where in the store by the tills. The assistant manager walked in, and yelled at me to get off my break and help them. I’d just sat down, after going up, and asking if they wanted help. They were one big group of people. The manager didn’t believe me. Or check with my coworker. This manager didn’t like me, or the store. (in fact, by the time she left I was the hardest working employee there, and I was still constantly terrified of loosing my job. Even though I did more then anyone else). This manager also said she didn’t think anyone at our location deserved minimum wage, and if it was up to her, she wouldn’t be paying us that much. (that was 8.5/hr)

  14. Jim*

    I had a boss (the General Counsel of a Fortune 250 company with a family-friendly brand) threaten to put me on a PIP, even though my performance was average or better than average for the last four years. His big complaint was that I was no good in “managing up”, even though I would leave him four or five emails a day about what was happening. I knew he didn’t like me (I was hired by his predecessor), would not be specific in his complaints (so I couldn’t improve) and would tell everyone on the rather small town we lived in that he put me on a PIP before he fired me, thereby destroying my ability to get another job. He got rid of 6 of his 8 direct reports in a two year period by being ruthless in a similar fashion, in order to bring his people in (and get rid of those hired by his predecessor). I reported this to the head of HR (there was no reason to report it to the law department), who was willing to do nothing.

    Sometimes, it’s better to leave because you really have no effective recourse.

  15. bmb*

    I was put on a PIP back in October. My manager followed it for the first month until he left the company. I then got a new manager which recently left as well but since my first manager left, I have not been asked to go over a review or anything. My subsequent managers didn’t follow it or anything. NOW they want to start following it again but I hear rumors that they plan on firing me upon completion of the PIP. Is this contestable or worth hiring an attorney for?

  16. An Employee*

    My boss put me on a PIP. Upon reasoning with him later in the day, he mentioned that he is happy with my performance but this has happened because of “others” in the company. He also assured me that its just 2 months of hard work and he did “not want to loose me”.
    Anyway I did not sign and after a proper reply to the allegations against me, I resigned. A month later he asked me to change my mind and said that “the organization needs people like me “. I was also asked to extend my stay which I did not. The company is now in a mess and I am thriving in my new job.
    Its best to change your manager if he does not stand by you despite giving your best every-time. If your manager is always crying about “others” talking rubbish, its a sign that a PIP might be underway. Do whatever possible to change your manager. If it doesn’t work, move on.
    In a nutshell, never sign a PIP. Jobs come and go. Dignity once gone can cause irreparable damage .

  17. Ray*

    I have been with my current company (very large financial firm) for about 18 months. The first 14 months went well, as I worked with the manager who brought me in. In the time he was my manager he wrote me a good performance review (although not detailed and I only have one). He then left to take on another role and I was left with an interim manager who I did not get along with. She wrote me a performance review which had an overall rating of “Met Expectations” but with lots of negative points. That manager soon left for another position and we just got a new manager last month.
    Right off the bat this new manager has been very negative and aggressive against me. She singles me out on the team and tries to make me miserable. I believe she read my last performance review and probably spoke with my old interim manager. After one month of a negative relationship (the entire time since she joined) with her she has issued me a 90-day Performance Improvement Plan. I believe she is trying to manage me out but I am not sure. The terms of the PIP are actually reasonable but they are subjective. I have read that you should always counter a PIP. Ideally I would be given 4 months of paid leave to find a new position either internally or externally. I am not sure they will give me this. I have a written a PIP response stating that I refuse to sign the PIP because I believe I am working in a toxic relationship and that some of the accusations on the PIP are exaggerated and that I would like to have time away from her (perhaps severance) to find a new position.
    Main concerns are – Although my last performance review was overall neutral, it has a lot of negative points on there which may make finding a new position internally difficult. (I do not have a big network at the company).
    Should I just go along with the PIP as well as I can and hope she shows some mercy on me? Or should I always counter to try and get it off my record with the agreement that I will leave in 4 months? I am searching for a new job aggressively regardless.

  18. Charles H*

    I have been on the receiving end of PIPs twice.

    In the first occurrence I was place on a PIP. The PIP had a defined timeline of 3 months after which “improvement was required”. However after just a month, I was called in to HR and fired. Turned out that 6 weeks later the company was acquired and they just wanted me off the balance sheet.

    The second time I was given a choice between being fired and accepting a PIP. I accepted the PIP, one was created by my boss (the PIP was not his idea), but never put into effect and I was fired a few months later.

  19. Mark C*

    And by the way, the California case you cite is not relevant to most situations. In that case the union had a specific clause in their contract requiring the disciplinary action paperwork, which basically made it the guy’s job to comply. I have never agreed to comply with any such thing as part of my job and most people have not.

  20. Barbara*

    Dear Alison,
    I signed mine, and my boss ‘extended’ it. Long story short: I talked to my boss, she told me it is not in her plans to dismiss me. Anyway, my question is: I have to ‘comment’ the evaluation; it basically says that, even though I have improved my working performance, I still need to pay attention to details (I tend to work too fast, oversee details, therefore, commit mistakes). What can I say? ‘I agree, and I will do my best’?

    Please help!

    Thank you.

  21. Jay*

    Never Never NEVER sign a PIP capability plan, this does not stop the process; BUT it does give you leverage should you decide to take it to court. By signing you are agreeing with their views that you are underperforming; say you cannot sign without legal advice. Now here is the crux the employer is logging EVIDENCE and WILL DISMISS you (Irrelevant of what they say, which is probably along the lines of “It’s to help you develop blah blah blah).

    NEXT you need to look for another job, BEFORE they tarnish your record. I tried to jump through hoops complying with PIP trying to complete numerous plans and stayed to the end of the process even though I was 99% sure what would happen I just wanted to see if I was right and I was, I was dismissed. As soon as a pip is introduced you are set up to fail. If an employer did not intend getting rid of you they would coach and support you without this totalitarian approach.

    And if this is not enough to convince you I add this; why should you accept being told you are not good enough, leave this crappy process with the crappy organisation that uses it.

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