>  Blog   >  How to Fight a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

How to Fight a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

Your employer put you on a Performance Improvement Plan because they want you to quit your job. Don’t resign!

Keep reading to learn how to fight a PIP.

1. Your Employer Put You on a PIP Because They Want You to Quit (Don’t Quit).

Employers don’t put you on a performance improvement plan to improve your performance.

They put you on a PIP to make your life miserable.

They want you to quit so they don’t have to fire you.

Don’t fall into this trap!

What Is a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)?

A PIP typically includes:

  • a description of your supposed performance problems
  • a time period (usually 30 to 90 days) for you to show improvement
  • the criteria your supervisor will use to measure your performance
  • a requirement for weekly (or daily, if they’re particularly cruel) progress meetings.

The Purpose of a PIP is to Make Your Life Miserable So That You Quit Your Job.

Your employer put you on a PIP because they want you gone but don’t want to fire you.

If improved performance was the goal, your supervisor would have long ago identified and addressed your performance issues during weekly check-ins.

He would not have drafted this document in secret with HR and dropped it in your lap without warning.

The PIP will likely include inaccurate criticisms, unreasonable metrics, and impossible deadlines.

No matter how hard you try, your supervisor will tell you at those weekly (or daily!) meetings that you are failing.

If you want to challenge your PIP and keep your job long enough to find another job, you need to be prepared for the possibility that your employer is not operating in good faith.

Don’t Quit Because You’re on a PIP. Force Your Employer to Fire You.

No matter how miserable you are on the PIP, don’t quit your job, if at all possible.

If you quit rather than get fired, you won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits.

If you quit, it will be nearly impossible to succeed in pursuing any claims of discrimination or retaliation you may have against the company.

This is exactly what the company wants.

Staying and fighting the PIP will not be easy.

You’ll have to complete meaningless busywork that your supervisor assigns.

You’ll have to accept all of your supervisor’s misguided directions, even though you likely resent him for putting you on a PIP.

It’s not easy to fight a PIP, but you can do it.

2. The First Five Steps to Fight Your PIP So You Can Keep Your Job Until You Find a Better One.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it—getting placed on a PIP is a miserable and humiliating experience. Even more so if you rightly believe the criticisms of your job performance are unfair or inaccurate.

Don’t let shame or embarrassment stop you from quickly taking these five actions.

Acknowledge Receipt of the PIP and Ask Clarifying Questions.

If asked, sign the acknowledgment that you received the PIP. Write “acknowledging receipt only” to make clear you do not agree with the contents.

When you receive your PIP, resist the temptation to argue about the accuracy of the criticisms. Instead, ask clarifying questions, ask for specific examples, and take lots of notes.

The more you can get your supervisor to talk and provide specific examples and clarifications, the better off you’ll be.

You’ll submit a written response later. So resist the urge to argue now.

Show the PIP to Friends and Colleagues You Know You Can Trust.

Ask people who know your work whether any of the criticisms are valid. But be exceedingly careful about trusting any of your coworkers.

You need to hear from someone willing to say “Well, you DO turn in your assignments late…”

Be honest with yourself about your shortcomings. No one is a perfect employee. Are any of the criticisms in the PIP accurate?

Start addressing those issues now because they’ll continue to be an issue with your next employer.

Gather Documents.

Make sure you have access to your performance evaluations, emails from your supervisors complimenting (or criticizing) your performance, and the company’s employee handbook.

Don’t take or access any documents that you don’t otherwise have access to.

Is the PIP the first time your supervisor raised these concerns about your performance? If so, that is a helpful fact to include in your written response.

Write a Chronology.

Write a chronology of your time with the company to help you spot patterns and causes for the PIP.

Did the criticisms of your performance start shortly after you complained about discrimination, or after you took leave to care for a seriously ill family member? Employees often come to us after they’ve been unexpectedly placed on a PIP shortly after engaging in protected activity.

3. Write a Response to Your PIP and Turn The Tables on Your Employer.

Your employer put you on a performance improvement plan (PIP) because they want to make your life miserable so that you quit.

Turn the tables on your employer by writing a response to your PIP that puts your employer on the defensive.

Don’t Ask for Permission to Submit a Response to Your PIP.

Submit a detailed written response to the PIP so that you:

  • create a written record of any errors in the PIP,
  • force your supervisor to provide clarity on his expectations, and
  • document whether a discriminatory or retaliatory motive appears to be driving the PIP process.

Don’t ask for permission. Just submit it.

Address Criticisms and Criteria for Improvement.

In your written response, address both the criticisms of your performance and the criteria by which your supervisor will supposedly measure your improvement.

Point out in your response which criticisms of your performance are:

  • objectively false;
  • based on subjective criteria;
  • based on discriminatory stereotypes; and
  • not enforced against your colleagues.

Press for specific, objective criteria for improvement. If the criteria cannot be met within the 60-day or 90-day window, explain why. If two performance objectives cannot be completed simultaneously, ask which objective takes priority.

Cite to Specific Examples in Your Documents and Chronology.

Use the documentation and chronology you compiled in Part 2 of this PIP response framework to support your arguments.

Quote positive statements from your annual reviews that contradict the PIP. Cite to emails that show your responsiveness (if that was a criticism). Show that your timeline of events disproves the accusation that you missed deadlines.

If you believe your employer issued the PIP for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason, state so plainly in your response.

Do not blame others or make excuses in your response, but explain plainly how the PIP is wrong or motivated by illegal animus.

4. Performing Your Job While Fighting the Performance Improvement Plan.

Working under the PIP is the most miserable part of the process. 

If you have a new position lined up, you may be better off leaving this horrible employer behind, rather than fighting the PIP. They’ve shown you who they are. You’re leaving this employer, one way or another.

But if you need to stay and fight your PIP to get leverage before you make a move to a new employer, follow these steps to perform your job while under the unreasonable expectations of a PIP.

Follow Up on Your Written Response.

In Part 3 of these guidelines on PIPs, I explained the importance of submitting a written response.

But the written response is not enough. You must follow up and politely demand clarification on the shortcomings, inaccuracies, vague criteria, and unreasonableness you identified in your response. Don’t stop until your employer either amends the PIP or directs you to stop. If the direction to stop is verbal, confirm the direction in an email to your employer so that you create a written record.

By then you will have proven your point, and your employer has shown they’re not giving you a genuine opportunity for improvement.

Prepare for Weekly Check-Ins.

Armed with the clarity you gained from your response and follow-up communications, you need to spend each week under the PIP collecting evidence that you are performing as required.

If you do not know what this evidence would look like, chances are your employer refused to provide objective, measurable criteria for improvement. If your employer gives you conflicting instructions on which project you should prioritize, document your efforts to clarify. You should feel prepared to go on offense during each weekly check-in, and show you are jumping through your supervisor’s (unreasonable) hoops.

If your employer demands daily check-ins, either by email or in person, they are acting in bad faith. Do it for five days, then explain that the time you take to write these emails prevents you from performing your actual job.

Expect to be Told You Are Failing.

You may be pleasantly surprised, and your employer may tell you you’ve shown adequate improvement.

But don’t count it, no matter how hard you try and no matter how provably wrong your employer is. Remember, the point of the PIP is to force you to quit, not to give a legitimate chance for improvement.

5. Your Exit Plan After Beating the PIP.

As you jump through the hoops of your performance improvement plan, you must plan your exit from the company.

You may well survive the PIP and show whatever improvement your employer seeks. Or you may jump through all the hoops and be told you failed the PIP anyway.

Either way, this is not an employer you can trust, so you should plan your exit.

Wrapping Up the PIP.

If you were successful in demanding that your employer provide objective criteria by which you can demonstrate improvement, you should have a solid written record of meeting those criteria during the PIP period.

Or if the PIP was a discriminatory or retaliatory effort to force you out of the company, and not a genuine opportunity to show improvement, you likely have evidence of that fact.

Being able to prove either point will help you gain leverage when you’re negotiating your exit from the company.

Work on Your Exit Plan While You Complete the PIP.

While you are exhausting yourself by jumping through all the unreasonable hoops required by the PIP, you must also start actively searching for your next job. Do not underestimate how exhausting this process will be, and be honest with yourself about whether you have the energy and willpower to endure the entire performance improvement period.

Contact five people in your professional circle (who will not notify your employer) and tell them you are looking to move to a new position. Ask them to ask around for opportunities.

The work you performed in preparing your written response to the PIP, and in preparing for weekly check-in meetings during the PIP, has prepared you to discuss your accomplishments in cover letters and job interviews.

Don’t Quit. Make Them Fire You.

Remember that you’re much better off getting fired, rather than resigning.

Most employees who seek advice from our firm are terrified of being fired, and understandably so.

If you honestly believe you were placed on a PIP for illegal discriminatory or retaliatory reasons, you will ruin your legal claim by resigning. You’ll also be ineligible for unemployment compensation if you quit.

However, if you are a federal employee or have a security clearance, or expect to do so in the future, then the prospect of termination might be worth avoiding.

Fighting your performance improvement plan is an emotionally draining process, but it can pay off under the right circumstances. But it’s a difficult fight to pursue on your own.

CONTACT US at District Employment Law if you want more information or guidance on fighting your PIP.

This blog post has been prepared for informational purposes only. This blog post is not intended, and should not be construed, as legal advice. The information contained in this blog post is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, and the receipt of this information does not constitute attorney-client privileged legal advice.