Surviving Your Performance Improvement Plan

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A Performance Improvement Plan (or “PIP” for short) is a non-disciplinary tool that some Ontario employers use when they have identified concerns with an employee’s performance. A PIP can be a legitimate means by which to help a struggling worker identify weaknesses in the performance of their duties and return to success. Unfortunately, not all businesses employ PIPs to correct performance and assist employees. In the course of our practice, we have seen employers engage a PIP process as a form of disguised discipline. In these circumstances, a PIP is used as part of an effort to remove an employee from the workplace.

If you are approached by your employer about a proposed PIP the first step is not to panic. Most likely, it is being implemented to provide assistance and support. Employers in Ontario are allowed to set the rules for their workplace. This may include putting in place standards by which to judge and evaluate an employee’s success. As such, it is far better to engage in the PIP process voluntarily and in good faith than to become defensive or combative and, in so doing, risk unnecessarily souring your employment relationship.

If you find yourself facing a PIP, consider taking the following steps:

•    Reflect – Take time to honestly assess whether there have been deficiencies in your workplace performance. If so, the PIP will provide an opportunity for you to get back on track. If the PIP appears unfounded, however, and your performance evaluations to this point have been positive, it may be worth speaking with an employment lawyer at this time, to protect yourself and to effectively manage the situation on a go-forward basis.

•    Engage – Engage with the PIP process in a good faith manner. Consider carefully the process that is being put in place and maintain an open and ongoing dialogue with your employer. If you are aware of a particular issue with which you require assistance, bring it to the attention of your employer and seek to work with your employer to craft a functional and well-suited PIP. In addition, if you believe your performance concerns are as a result of an underlying issue, for example an illness or disability, seek to open a dialogue with your employer and resolve.

•    Record – While the PIP is ongoing, keep detailed notes. If the PIP is indeed the start of a campaign that may result in you being fired, having a record of key events and communication at a later date may prove crucial. 

•    Respond – Just because you are required to participate in a PIP does not mean that you should do so unquestioningly. If you feel the underlying basis for the PIP is disingenuous, attempt to correct the record. Similarly, if you have objective problems with the operation of the PIP (such as targets not being realistic or expectations being vague) seek clarification. Finally, you can also ask your employer what tools, resources or training might be available to assist you in successfully completing the PIP.

From a legal standpoint, the consequences of instituting an improper PIP may prove costly for employers. For instance, consider the case Piresferreira v. Ayotte (2010 ONCA 384). Here a Bell employee was assaulted by her manager who then placed her on a PIP as a means of trying to fend off any potential complaint. When the matter was put before the Court, Bell was ordered to pay $45,000.00 to its employee due in no small part to the bad faith manner in which the PIP was imposed by its manager. 

Vey Willetts LLP is an Ottawa-based employment and labour law firm that provides timely and effective legal advice to employers and employees in the Capital Region and across Ontario. To speak with an Ottawa employment lawyer, please contact: or 613-238-4430.