The framework for performance remains the same during the coronavirus pandemic. Agency obligations for fairness, respect and communication also remain the same and are key to ensuring that employees are supported during what is an inherently stressful time.
Consideration should be given to factors that may be different due to the coronavirus pandemic:
- Current social distancing requirements may make face-to-face meetings impractical, so teleconferences and virtual participation, including for support persons and industrial representatives, may be an option.
- Reasonable decision making (at various points in a process) may require consideration of pandemic-related factors.
- The employee may experience additional anxiety and stress, and there may be delays seeking advice from their union.
- Performance improvement processes may be challenging to support and monitor in a remote environment.
- How will decisions, including about performance improvement process, be communicated to the employee?
- Procedural matters such as fair and reasonable timeframes for the employee to respond.
Pandemic Plus performance questions
1. Should a current performance improvement process (PIP) be paused due to the pandemic? What is the impact of a pause on the process?
Each PIP should be considered on a case by case basis. The goal of a PIP is to help an employee achieve the required standard of performance or conduct. Managers should consider the impacts the pandemic may have had on an employee, and consider whether the requirements of the PIP are reasonable in the circumstances. While it may be reasonable to continue with a PIP, it may be necessary to make amendments to timeframes, or the outcomes employees are required to achieve.
If a decision is made to pause a PIP due to the pandemic, the implications for this on the process and expectations around performance and conduct while it is paused, should be clearly outlined to the employee.
2. Where an employee’s performance is reduced during the pandemic, how long should an employee be given before a formal performance improvement process (PIP) can be implemented?
The pandemic alone is not a reason to commence a PIP where performance is temporarily reduced due to the change in work environment and/or stresses associated with the pandemic. Decision making should take into account the complex and stressful circumstances employees may find themselves in during the pandemic, and consider supports or adjustments that can be put in place to help employees through this time.
Careful consideration should be given to how performance is measured during the pandemic, and whether the appropriate supports and monitoring can be put into place for employees if a decision is made to commence a PIP.
3. Can an employee request a support person or industrial representative be present at their performance and development agreement (PDA) meeting?
Whilst an employee may request this, there are certain circumstances where it may not be necessary or appropriate for an employee to have a support person or industrial representative present at a meeting with a supervisor or line manager. This may include an employee’s regular PDA meeting.
It is appropriate for an employee to have a support person or industrial representative present in meetings where instances of poor conduct or performance or performance are being raised, and a response is being sought from the employee.
4. Can you put someone on a performance improvement plan (PIP) if they don’t previously have a performance and development agreement (PDA) in place?
Discussions about conduct and performance expectations should be documented in a PDA or equivalent so that employees are aware of what is required of them in their role. Regular feedback conversations should be held against PDA expectations.
Prior to deciding to commence a PIP, an agency should be able to demonstrate that the employee was aware of conduct and performance expectations, and they have been given regular and documented feedback, plus support, to correct the poor performance or conduct in a reasonable amount of time.
No. Section 195(3A)(d) of the Public Service Act 2008 outlines that an employee cannot appeal a decision relating to their work performance, for example, through a PIP. An employee may be able to appeal a decision that is recorded in a formal way during their regular performance and development agreement review.
The expectations, support mechanisms and required outcomes of a PIP should be developed in consultation with the employee, and their industrial representative where applicable.
Following this, if the employee is unwilling to sign the PIP, a conversation should be held to explore and address any concerns with the process and/or the PIP document to determine whether they are reasonable. The reasons the employee will not sign should be clearly outlined and documented with the PIP. If relevant, the employee should be advised that although they do not wish to sign the document, the PIP will proceed and the expectations about conduct and performance will remain in place.
The duration of a PIP is generally 12 weeks, however, it can be for a longer or shorter period, depending on the circumstances and the nature of what the employee is expected to achieve. For example, if an employee achieves and sustains what is required of them in a shorter period, a manager may choose to conclude the PIP earlier than its original timeframe. If an employee requires formal training that extends beyond a 12-week timeframe, it may be appropriate to consider a longer PIP. It may also be appropriate to consider extending a PIP where an employee has not yet met, but made good progress towards achieving what is required.