Responding To Negative Performance Reviews

Evaluate whether the review was sincere

When you’re answering this question, you need to do your best to be objective. You may want to explain the situation to your spouse or a friend to get their feedback. Performance reviews, when used properly, can be an effective tool for improving performance. Sometimes a manager is sincerely trying to help you by giving constructive feedback. Even if you disagree with the ratings or criticism, you should keep an open mind and try to understand where your boss is coming from. 

Responding to sincere reviews

In cases where the performance review was written in good faith, your best response may be no response at all. Responses to performance reviews frequently backfire. The employer may think that you are difficult and not open to feedback. If you do respond, be polite and stick to the facts. Do not make accusations. Do not make threats. Remember that the employer is entitled to its opinions. Disputing your boss’s opinions is unlikely to accomplish much if anything. 

Responding to illegitimate reviews

The odds are that if you are reading this, you probably think the review was written in bad faith. Maybe the boss is trying to build a paper trail to justify firing you. If you are in this situation, then it is extremely important to write a response.  

Keep the response professional and polite. Do not make threats. Let me repeat myself: Do not make threats. Remember that anything you write may be seen by a jury someday. You do not want to write anything that will put you in an unflattering light. Threatening a lawsuit over a bad review will make you look difficult and unreasonable in the eyes of a jury. For the same reason, avoid inflammatory language and name calling. 

Your response should correct any factual inaccuracies in the evaluation. If you fail to correct a misstatement, then the employer will later argue that you implicitly admitted the allegation. 

If you think the review was written for illegal reasons (like discrimination or retaliation), then you should separately complain to human resources in addition to formally responding to the performance review. Save a copy of the complaint. If you transmit it via email, then print out the email and all attachments. You should provide human resources with all documentation and identify witnesses who can corroborate your position. Complaining to HR serves two important goals. First, it gives the employer a chance to correct the problem. Second, if you are forced to file a lawsuit, your case will be stronger if you can show the jury that you put the employer on notice of the unlawful conduct and the employer failed to address it.

Finally, if the performance review contains metrics or goals, then you should evaluate whether they are reasonable or realistic. Unscrupulous employers will sometimes deliberately impose impossible goals on an employee that they can later use to justify a termination. If you receive impossible goals, then you should explain why the goals are impossible in your response. You should document your progress in achieving (or attempting) the goals your employer imposed.