Performance management - Impact of employee absences on performance rating

An employee was rated 'partially effective' at the end of the performance management cycle. The employee argued that the performance management process did not comply with the provisions in the agency's enterprise agreement on performance feedback. She also argued that her managers had no basis for rating her performance as 'partially effective' and the real reason for the rating was her absences from work on personal leave.

The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that, while the employee received feedback on tasks, there was no evidence of feedback suggesting the employee should expect a 'partially effective' rating at the end of the performance cycle. The evidence suggested the employee's managers only focussed on the overall level of her performance at the end of the performance cycle at the time they were required to decide the rating.

The agency's enterprise agreement had a principle of 'shared responsibility' for performance management. Responsibilities with respect to feedback did not rest solely with the employee's managers. The employee's frequent and unpredictable absences from the workplace made it difficult for her managers to apply good practice when giving performance feedback, particularly in the second half of the performance cycle when the workload of the section was heavy. The employee was an Executive Level 1. In the opinion of the Merit Protection Commissioner, the employee had a responsibility to initiate discussions with her managers throughout the performance cycle on her progress and on the implications of task feedback for her performance rating.

The Merit Protection Commissioner concluded that there was substantial compliance with the agency's enterprise agreement in the way in which feedback and the employee's performance rating was handled by her managers.

The employee argued that she received confusing advice about the reasons for the 'partially effective' rating. Her managers had concerns about both the quantity and quality of her output. The employee argued that the quantity of her output was affected by the environment in which the section was operating, including unreasonable demands. The employee considered her managers' claims about the quality of her work were contrived and her absences from work were the reason she was rated 'partially effective'. The employee argued she was absent from work on approved sick and carer's leave, supported by medical evidence, and it was unlawful for her manager to take this into account in determining the standard of her performance.

The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that the employee received confusing advice from her managers about the reasons for her performance rating. It was clear from the documentary evidence before the review that the employee's absences from work were a significant factor in her managers' assessment of her performance. However, in the Merit Protection Commissioner's opinion, there was no evidence the employee's managers treated her differently from other employees or refused her legal entitlements because she had taken sick leave.

The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that the employee was absent from work for over 40 percent of her working days in the second half of the performance cycle. Her managers were concerned that her pattern of unscheduled absences had an impact on both her output and her capacity to contribute to the work of the team facing tight project deadlines. It was clear that the employee's managers were concerned about both her output and the quality of her work and that her supervisors held those concerns prior to conducting the end of performance cycle assessment.

The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that it was not possible to conduct an independent assessment of the quality of the employee's work. However, an unpredictable pattern of absences from work can make it difficult for an employee to do a thorough job with project work because the employee loses continuity and focus.

The Merit Protection Commissioner was satisfied that the employee's extensive absences from work on approved sick and carers leave affected both the quantity and quality of her work and were a relevant consideration in assessing her performance. The Merit Protection Commissioner recommended that the performance rating be confirmed as fair and reasonable.