Nonreelections and Year-End Performance Evaluations: Now is the Time to Think Ahead

As we reach the approximate midpoint of the academic year, we believe it is important for employers to look ahead to nonreelections and year-end performance evaluations of permanent employees.  We therefore remind our readers of important procedural considerations in the evaluation process, and also offer some substantive tips in preparing evaluation documents.

All education employers should be making sure now that they are developing adequate information on which to base evaluations and decisions about continued employment, that this information has been adequately documented in the personnel file and the employee given a chance to respond, and also that any requirements for the evaluation process established by statute, policy, or collective bargaining agreements are being observed.  Don’t wait until the end of the year to address these issues!  By then, it may be too late.

Procedural Requirements and Timing Issues

For probationary academic and certificated employees, statutory March 15 nonreelection deadlines are fast approaching.  A community college academic employee is entitled to a hearing to challenge a nonreelection decision, and may prevail if the employer failed to follow its own evaluation policies and procedures and other procedures mandated by the Education Code.  For community college as well as K-12 employees, while nonreelection decisions do not require “cause” in the same sense as dismissal of a permanent employee, employers must nevertheless be able to justify their decisions if challenged (for example if an unlawful motive is alleged).  Consider whether personnel files demonstrate good reasons for any contemplated nonreelections, and if not, whether additional observations should be conducted and/or documentation developed.  Remember that personnel file documentation developed only after the fact may be of little help in defending a challenged decision.

Now is also the time for education employers to take stock of any permanent employees for whom performance concerns exist, and to make sure that formal evaluation procedures are being adhered to.  Doing so now will help the employer be in a position at the end of the year to address these issues in an evaluation and provide constructive feedback with the goal of improving job performance, or, if necessary, to take disciplinary action.

Tips for Preparing Evaluations

Descriptive and candid formal evaluations are an essential part of an administrator’s duties, and are critical when addressing concerns regarding an employee’s performance.  Formal evaluations provide constructive feedback to employees about the strengths and weaknesses in their job performance.  When done well, employees can be motivated by the positive feedback and make adjustments to improve the areas of concern, or in the absence of needed improvement, well-drafted evaluations serve as a foundation upon which disciplinary action may be based.  When done poorly, evaluations can lack clear direction, provide employees with mixed messages as to what is expected of them, fail to bring about positive change, and create or exacerbate tensions between employees and supervisors.

The following are some helpful reminders when preparing an effective evaluation:

  • A strong employee evaluation includes information from multiple sources, and is an accurate reflection of the employee’s performance throughout the entire evaluation period.  Utilize all prior verbal and written directives for improvement and information gained from in-person observations through the evaluation period when preparing the evaluation.
  • Constructive criticism is provided to assist the employee with improving his or her performance.  Such criticism, therefore, should be accompanied by concrete examples of the employee’s failure to meet expectations, and suggestions about how the employee can improve his or her performance.
  • Each category should include specific examples that support the rating given.  If an employee receives an “unsatisfactory” rating in attendance, the comments section should include the number of times an employee was absent or tardy that evaluation period, and a brief summary of why the employee’s absences violated District policy, and/or pertinent contract and collective bargaining agreement provisions.
  • The overall rating should reflect the ratings received in individual categories.  If an employee receives multiple “needs improvement” ratings in the evaluation categories, the employee should not receive an overall rating of “satisfactory.”
  • Similarly, written comments should reflect the overall tenor of the evaluation.  If an employee receives negative ratings, the comments should not imply that the employee has performed satisfactorily.
  • Review prior evaluations to determine if the employee has made previously recommended improvements.  Decisions not to reemploy or to discipline an employee are best supported by evaluations that consistently identify performance concerns and state whether the employee has improved in the area(s) of concern.
  • The evaluation must be placed in the employee’s personnel file after it is provided to the employee.  Please remember to notify the employee that the evaluation will be placed in his or her personnel file.  An administrator must consult the employee’s contract and/or collective bargaining agreement to ensure all provisions regarding placement of documents in an employee personnel file are followed.
  • Shortly after discussing the evaluation with the employee, the administrator can provide the employee with a written Conference Summary that memorializes the content of the conversation, to be entered into the personnel file.  Conference summaries are a useful tool to determine whether concerns not addressed in the formal evaluation were verbally addressed with the employee.

While time-consuming, a detailed and candid evaluation provides an employee with written direction for improving their performance, or, if necessary, support for taking disciplinary action.

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