Performance Improvement and Corrective Action - Human Resources at Ohio State

Employee and Labor Relations

Performance Improvement and Corrective Action

The primary goal of corrective action is to facilitate performance and behavior improvement, rather than to serve as a punitive action.  When applied appropriately, corrective action sets clear standards for employees and warns of consequences for noncompliance.  Corrective action can help move employees toward acceptable performance standards when the proper steps are taken.  A progressive corrective action model builds upon prior actions and helps promote fair decisions. By aligning corrective action with an employee’s performance evaluation, if an employee’s performance fails to meet expectations, it is reflected in the evaluation and is applied to address those issues.

Coaching an employee

Regardless of an employee’s classification and title, coaching is the foundation of the performance improvement process. Coaching is considered “informal” corrective action. As issues arise with staff behavior or performance, talk with the staff member to ensure awareness of the problem. Be specific regarding the nature of the problem and ensure that the employee understands that further action is possible, including formal corrective action, if the performance deficiencies persist or if other performance issues arise. An effective coaching conversation includes the following elements:

  • Identify the objective facts of the issue (who, what, when, where).
  • Ask the employee for their side of the story or response to the issue.
  • Illustrate the impact the issue has on others and/or the workplace (e.g. hardship on coworkers and colleagues, poor service to customers, etc.).
  • Discuss mechanisms for improvement and provide measurements and specific timeframes, if appropriate.
  • Ask the staff member what they need to perform successfully in this area of work.
  • Inform the staff member that you will continue to review their work to ensure expectations are met.
  • Highlight areas where the staff member is performing well.

Inform the employee that you are documenting the conversation, and keep a summary of the conversation, including what the employee said about the issues, in a supervisory file (not the employee’s personnel file). It is a best practice to send an email to the employee following the coaching conversation to document the conversation and solidify expectations going forward. Follow up with the employee within a few weeks of the coaching session to review progress.

Coaching may not be required in every situation, depending on the circumstances. For example, managers may not need to engage in coaching when the issue involves workplace violence or theft, among other things. Issues such as these would proceed directly to a formal corrective action.

Formal corrective action

When coaching is ineffective in helping a staff member improve their performance and/or behavior, or when the issue is severe enough that coaching is an inappropriate first step, it is time to take formal corrective action. The steps a supervisor takes in formal corrective action vary by the employee’s classification and title, as outlined below. In all cases, however, consider the following guiding principles:

  • Was the staff member provided with clear expectations?
  • Were prior coaching conversations with the staff member documented?
  • Did management thoroughly investigate the issue?
  • Was the staff member given an opportunity to share their perspective on the issue?
  • Is the staff member’s performance being managed in accordance with university and department policy?
  • Is the staff member being treated consistently with other staff members?
  • Are there any mitigating circumstances (e.g. approved FML or ADA accommodations)?

When considering formal corrective action we strive to treat employees fairly by making sure they are aware of the problem, by gathering enough information to make a reasonable decision about appropriate action, and then taking action that is commensurate to the significance of the problem. Refrain from referencing protected classes, or sensitive or confidential information when creating a notice of formal corrective action.

Unclassified staff are employed “at will” and serve at the discretion of the college/VP unit appointing authority. This means that the employment relationship with an unclassified staff member may be terminated at any time for any reason, provided the reason is not prohibited by law. In general, unclassified staff should be advised about deficient performance and given a chance to improve prior to termination.

Either after coaching has occurred or in conjunction with coaching, a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) (sample format 1, sample format 2) may be used to address performance issues with an unclassified staff member. The intent of a PIP is to mutually establish a structured plan to assist the staff member. The structured plan typically lasts 30-90 days, but could be longer depending on the circumstances, and includes periodic meetings with the employee to review progress. When delivering a PIP, discuss the performance problem(s), devise a plan of action with a period for improvement, and discuss intervals for follow-up.

For some issues, such as an instance of unacceptable behavior or unsatisfactory attendance, a formal letter of counseling may be a more appropriate notice to the staff member than a PIP for purposes of documenting the issue. When behavioral issues arise, you may be unable to reference a specific policy or job responsibility.  Instead, you can effectively identify and address these issues by highlighting their impact and by connecting them to university values or established principles of professionalism.

If these interventions do not have the desired effect, consult with the Office of Human Resources prior to termination of the staff member of the staff member.  Whatever intervention you take with an employee, an overarching goal of the intervention is to notify the employee that they must improve and sustain acceptable performance to remain in their position.

Flow chart for unclassified staff

CCS staff serve under the university rules for the Classified Civil Service. The reasons for which CCS staff may be disciplined are generally defined as follows:

  • Conviction of a felony refers to when a staff member is convicted of a felony while employed by the university, or has a felony conviction not disclosed during the hiring process.
  • Discourteous treatment of the public is inappropriate behavior toward a visitor or vendor of the university.
  • Dishonesty is usually in the form of stealing, falsifying application for leave forms or other documents, or lying to a supervisor.
  • Failure of good behavior can take the form of cursing in the workplace, unprofessional conduct toward a co-worker or customer, fighting, or threatening behavior.
  • Failure to return from a leave of absence occurs when a staff member fails to return to work from leave and is in an unapproved absence status.
  • Immoral conduct typically involves sexual harassment or lewd behavior.
  • Incompetence refers to not demonstrating the skills or abilities to perform the job.
  • Inefficiency refers to when a staff member has the skills and abilities to do their job but repeatedly makes mistakes or takes too long to complete tasks.
  • Insubordination is refusal to follow a directive from a supervisor.
  • Malfeasance in office is the performance of an unlawful act while in an official capacity.
  • Misfeasance in office is the inadequate or wrongful performance of a normally lawful act.
  • Neglect of duty is a general category typically used for attendance issues, taking excessive breaks, conducting personal business while at work, viewing non work-related items on the internet, or anything else that takes a staff member away from completing their job assignments.
  • Nonfeasance in office is the failure to act when a duty to act exists.
  • Use or being under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs at work or inappropriate use of prescription drugs is when a staff member violates university policy related to drugs or alcohol.

CCS staff members may be disciplined for other unsatisfactory job performance or violations of university rules and policies.

The Appointing Authority for CCS staff is the Vice President for Human Resources, or designee. The formal steps of corrective action for CCS staff members follow a progression of written notices culminating in termination. Each step in the performance improvement process must include written notice to the staff member of their level in the process, the nature of their deficient performance, the expectations for performance, the consequences of continued deficient performance, and the fact that performance is considered in the CCS displacement process when positions are abolished. The typical progression of steps is as follows:

The progression of steps does not apply to CCS staff still serving in a probationary period (see Policy 5.10 for additional information).

The progression of corrective action steps does not apply to CCS staff still serving in a probationary period (see Policy 5.10 for additional information). In accordance with Policy 5.10, a 180 calendar-day probationary period is required for non-bargaining, certified status-eligible CCS staff to review performance during the initial period of employment or after certain changes in classification. The probationary period is a critical time for the manager to ensure the probationary employee receives proper training, coaching, and feedback, to successfully perform the essential duties of their job. During the probationary period, the manager should take time to monitor and review the employee’s job performance and conduct. An employee whose performance is unsatisfactory during a “first position” (an individual’s first CCS position with the university) may be terminated. An employee whose performance is unsatisfactory following a promotion or lateral job change may be returned to their former classification. Supervisors should review and utilize the Probationary Period – Performance Management and Probationary Period Assessment tools which provide helpful Probationary Period guidelines and suggestions for tracking the progress of probationary employees.

Each of the first three progressive steps is active for three years, meaning the employee would advance to the next step in the process if further problems arise within three years after the prior step. After three years, the employee can request the removal of the disciplinary record from their personnel file. The inactive record should then be kept in a separate supervisory file. Steps may be skipped in this progression depending on the severity of the issue, and some issues (e.g. workplace violence) may result in immediately advancing to termination. Consult with Employee and Labor Relations about issues that may warrant skipping steps.

Merger and bar is a principle the university applies when considering formal corrective action for an employee. It generally means that management cannot issue corrective action for an incident when the incident  occurred prior to the issuance of the last formal corrective action. For example, if a CCS staff member received a Level One Notice on August 1, 2017, management could not advance to a Level Two Notice on September 1, 2017, based on an incident that occurred prior to August 1, 2017.

When requesting a hearing for termination, compile a packet of relevant supporting documentation to submit along with the request. Consult with your Employee Relations Senior Representative when compiling the packet. Once the hearing is scheduled, OHR will issue a notice to the staff member along with a copy of all supporting documentation.

Flow chart for CCS staff

Bargaining unit staff are represented by labor unions under collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining agreements outline the specific steps for performance improvement and corrective action, which are generally progressive in nature. Bargaining unit members have the right to have union representation during investigatory interviews that the employee reasonably believes may result in discipline, and at corrective action hearings.

Other considerations

There may be a variety of circumstances to consider while dealing with corrective action. Some of the circumstances you may encounter are outlined below.

Probationary removal requests can be submitted using the Probationary Removal/Demotion Request Form. Supporting documentation should accompany the request pursuant the Probationary Policy 5.10.

In cases where the performance improvement process leads to termination, staff may request the option of resigning in lieu of termination. This option must be raised by the staff member only. Consult with HR Employee and Labor Relations before making a determination to accept a resignation in lieu of involuntary termination. When an employee requests to resign in lieu of termination, it is at the appointing authority’s discretion whether to accept the resignation or not.

If accepting the resignation, issue a letter of acceptance to the employee. The letter of acceptance must indicate whether the employee will or will not be eligible for rehire. Ineligibility for rehire, decided in consultation with HR Employee and Labor Relations, is noted in the HRIS by the college/VP unit. Send a copy of the resignation acceptance letter to HR Employee and Labor Relations.

Job abandonment occurs when a staff member fails to report to work and fails to notify the supervisor of the reason for the absence from work for three or more consecutive workdays. After the third consecutive workday the staff member is absent from work and fails to obtain approval for the absence, consult with HR Employee and Labor Relations to determine if the circumstances are such that job abandonment appears evident. If you have made reasonable attempts to contact the employee, and it is clear the employee has abandoned their job, then the unit may pursue termination. For CCS and union staff members, request a termination hearing.  Corrective action may be taken for an employee’s failure to communicate with their department even if they ultimately return to work.

Paid administrative leave: The university may place a staff member on administrative leave with pay at its discretion. The university uses such leave in circumstances when the health or safety of any staff member or of any person or property entrusted to the staff member’s care could be adversely affected. Compensation for administrative leave will be equal to the staff member’s base rate of pay. The length of such leave is solely at the discretion of the university. HR Employee and Labor Relations must approve placing a staff member on administrative leave. Under paid administrative leave, the employee is in an active pay status.

Unpaid administrative leave: The university may place a staff member on unpaid administrative leave for a period not exceeding two months if the staff member has been charged with a violation of law that is punishable as a felony. If the staff member subsequently does not plead guilty to or is not found guilty of a felony, the appointing authority shall pay the staff member at his/her base rate of pay, plus interest, for the period the staff member was on the unpaid administrative leave. Consult with HR Employee and Labor Relations before placing an employee on unpaid administrative leave.

For either paid or unpaid administrative leave, contact your unit’s IT department to disable access for the staff member. Consult with Employee and Labor Relations on any necessary actions related to other access the employee has in connection with their position.

Staff members may request to have a support person, such as an attorney, accompany them for meetings within the performance improvement process.  When you receive such a request from a staff member, consult with Employee Relations.  Attorneys may be asked to provide a letter of representation so that Human Resources representatives and others can share documentation with them and communicate with them after the meeting.  CCS staff members who have a corrective action hearing scheduled with OHR are permitted to bring one support person to the hearing.

A support person who is permitted to attend a hearing or other meeting may only function as a supportive presence, even if they are an attorney. The support person will not speak for the staff member during the meeting or hearing proceedings.

In situations that pose a security risk, such as a staff member displaying threatening behavior, contact Ohio State Police at 614-292-2121 to arrange for an officer to come to your location. Security contacts for regional campuses are available on the OSUPD webpage. In emergencies, call 9-1-1. OSUPD can provide a security presence when there is a need to meet with an employee and the circumstances of the situation have created a concern for safety. Coordinate such arrangements with Employee Relations to ensure other parties, such as Legal Services and the Employee Assistance Program, are aware of the circumstances when needed.