Protecting Employers Since 1985

May 2014

By: Nancy E. Joerg, Esq.

PROBLEM: Many managers (sometimes unconsciously) overrate their subordinates. This is a common human failing – to overlook the deficiencies of an employee’s performance and, at the same time, emphasize and even exaggerate the strong points of the employee’s performance. The truth is that it may be better to have absolutely no performance reviews in a company rather than to have performance reviews that are inflated.

The problem that employment lawyers routinely see with inflated performance reviews is when a client moves ahead to finally terminate a difficult employee for severe performance related problems. Then, the client is horrified to look back over that employee’s personnel file and find that there are years of inflated performance reviews.

This disparity, of course, creates a major credibility problem for our client. Here, our client is saying that they did not discriminate when they terminated the employee for poor performance (but that employee’s personnel file is telling a very different story). The personnel file, supported by its inflated performance reviews, promotes a rosy picture of an outstanding employee.

Sometimes companies directly link performance reviews to increases in salary; therefore, managers may inflate their subordinates’ performance reviews in order to justify pay raises.

TIPS: One helpful way to avoid inflated performance reviews is for a company to insist that every performance review includes “areas for improvement” and “strengths and weaknesses.”

Base the performance reviews on only objective, factual and job-related considerations. Focus on the job, not the person.

Connect performance to business objectives.

Additionally, it is helpful if there is more than one person writing and reviewing the performance reviews. This often will provide a more “balanced approach” and discourage “rave reviews.”

Questions? Call Attorney Nancy E. Joerg of Wessels Sherman’s St. Charles, Illinois office: 630-377-1554 or email her at

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